At her core, Darlene Slaughter sees herself as a teacher. So it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that, even with a degree in elementary education, she has never taught in a traditional classroom. Instead, she brought her skills to the corporate world. At AT&T, she worked as a quality consultant, facilitating meetings, and later moved into human resources and organizational development.
Slaughter’s next stint was at Fannie Mae, in quality management, where she spent 20 years working her way up to the position of chief diversity officer. Then in late 2014, craving a more global role, she accepted the job of chief diversity officer at United Way Worldwide.
Diversity Woman spoke with Slaughter about what it’s like to lead a diversity and inclusion department in the nonprofit sector.
Diversity Woman: What excites you about your new job?
Darlene Slaughter: United Way has 1,800 local offices in the US, and we are in 41 countries. I’m most excited that the United Way tagline, “Live United,” is all about diversity and inclusion. When you work at a corporation, D&I is a program. Here, it embodies everything we do.
DW: What D&I challenges does the nonprofit sector face?
DS: When you are working in a community, you can see yourself working in the D&I space, but you may not have a D&I mind-set. We need to figure out how to help people have conversations without feeling as if they are in the wrong. At a nonprofit, it can be easy to feel isolated.
DW: What initiatives are you most enthusiastic about?
DS: I’m excited about bringing chief diversity officers from our corporate partners together so we can look at the synergies between the work that we do and they do—around leadership development, board development, and programs and opportunities where employees can get involved.
DW: How do you measure the success of D&I initiatives?
DS: Awareness. I give local offices strategies and resources so they can learn more about the communities they are working in. Board members in one community, for example, may all look alike. There are unconscious biases out there. Sometimes the best progress is just making people aware of things they are naturally doing so they can change.
DW: How do D&I initiatives at nonprofits differ from those in corporations?
DS: There are opportunities in the corporate world to connect with people and go to D&I conferences. That isn’t the case in the nonprofit world.
We should be in the same places as our corporate partners. To put corporate dollars into communities where nonprofits are and leverage those relationships—that is the future. That is the ultimate definition of inclusion.