Sabine Soumare From Ryerson’s Diversity Institute On Becoming Better Allies In the Nonprofit Industry

How can we do better? The Black Live Matter movement has made the world aware of the injustices affecting the black community. It’s time for change. 

Ryerson University recently released their Diversity Leaders Report from the Diversity Institute and found that although there are more female leaders on boards there is still a long way to go for black and marginalized communities. With over one fifth of Canadians identifying as visible minorities, there is a demand for more diverse leaders on our boards. 

Sabine Soumare, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and is ready for change. She joins us today to discuss
  • How to become better allies for women and other visible minorities
  • Advocating for change within our organization and, 
  • Acknowledging the struggles visible minorities face in the workplace

Official Transcript

How do we begin advocating for women and visible minorities in leadership positions, and what can we do to make the nonprofit sector more inclusive? Sabine Sumare joins us today on Fundraising Superheroes to discuss how we can become better allies in the nonprofit sector.

Hello and welcome to Donor Engine's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and if you haven't heard of us, Donor Engine is an all in one non-profit software built from the ground up for you and your team. Our mission is to help nonprofits save hours of time and data management so they can focus more of their time on their project. If you'd like to learn more, please give us a visit at Donor Engine dot com for more information or demo.

Although we've been making progress, there's still a long way to go before we see more visible minorities in leadership positions. Sabine Sumare joins us on the show today. She has over 10 years of experience and communication, public affairs and government relations. She's now the owner of her own consulting business. Thus far, the focus of her career has been on promoting the interests of women francophones, and newcomers mainly in Ontario. Currently, Sabine works at Ryerson University's Diversity Institute as a Director of Marketing and Communications.

I'm so happy she's here today to speak on how we can do better and be better advocates for ourselves and others in the industry, allowing us to provide equal opportunity for women and minority groups. So thank you so much Sabine for joining us.

Thank you for having me, Sabrina. 

So being an advocate for francophones in Canada, competing against a lot of the more mainstream groups, what advice would you give to other minority leaders? How can they get their voices heard?

Well, I would say that you have to take your space to be heard from the beginning. But how to do it, that's always the question. So first, contact with other communities, learn from them, partner with them. It's very important to find allies. And then secondly, it's very important to build up a strong relationship with government representatives, to speak to decision-makers and policy-makers, because most of the time they will help you and you will help them actually to make the change at a higher level.

I also always say that finding ambassadors or finding influencers can help because they will support you to push your message and you can not do it alone. So being surrounded by key people really help in general. And that's something that nonprofit organizations should make sure that they have that support. And then lastly, choose your member wisely to make sure you have solid members to fight for your goals and more importantly, to advocate on your behalf. 

I love that you mention the recruitment of board members, we had Denny Young come on the show a few weeks ago to talk about exactly that, and he really stressed the importance of passion in a board member.

And because they're adopting your organization, they have to be able to love it as much as you do.

Exactly. Totally.

So there's a lot going on in the world right now as we're working through COVID. There is the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of people are out there fighting for rights and should nonprofit organizations be showing support to these issues, even if they're not directly related to those issues, especially here in Canada. I know it feels like it's a far way away, but really, you know, we were still struggling with a lot of racial prejudice here in our country.

But how can we become allies to these communities?

Well, I think to answer your question, nonprofit organizations should be and we actually should all be supportive of them. And when they said we should call as an individual, show support to this important issue. Since the death of George Floyd, the issues have taken more space in our society. And now we speak out. We act by creating awareness and by finding ways to be more inclusive in various ways. But in fact, it shouldn't be just the momentum.

In my opinion. We still have to do more, more has to be done and things we should just start doing. And I've seen some nonprofit organizations doing, actually. It's inviting more black people at the table. And when we talk at a table, its boards and various boards and we can talk about that later about the recent research from the Institute of Representation, of the lack of representation of minorities on boards and also invite them on panels.

We need to hear from them. We need to hear their perspective. Also, speak out about this issue within your organization is very important. You have to have an open discussion with your staff to allow them to say what they feel and how they want to contribute to creating a more inclusive organization. And finally, it links to adopting its policies internally using a diversity lens. I think those are very important steps to start.

I think that having people in on that conversation who are part of these minorities, it's key.

Like you can't talk about fixing the problem with that, including the people who we need to fight for and the problem. Yeah, and speaking of the board study, Toronto's population of visible minorities is 50 percent. I remember going through the study and I can't get the exact numbers off the top of my head, but I was looking at the minority representation in board leaders and it was like 10 percent, 15 percent, 9 percent, which is not reflecting the actual population demographic at all.

Correct. And it's sad. It's sad because of part of this report. So let me just say the name of the report correctly. So the diversity leaders report from Ryerson's Diversity Institute. I think what struck me the most is, yes, we can celebrate the fact that we have more women in boards, engage in boards and present, which is amazing. But when we look at the representation in terms of the minority groups, they are not there. So it's hard to say, but it is hard to be happy when you don't see the real representation of society at the table.

And it's very important to address it now in 2020. And I will go back to this momentum, this momentum that I've been talking about. This is the time to make a change. 

For those listening, I'll also include a link to the study in our description box. But for leaders who are tuning into the podcast, how important is it to have actions like a diversity clause or some sort of support system within your organization that deals directly with making sure that we're having diverse voices represented in organizations?

Well, I think the report first, we need to make sure that organization, nonprofit organization, have the report and read the study and see the facts because that's what we need. I remember I heard someone saying when we launched the report that, well, there is nothing new. And I told myself, well, yes, there is nothing new, but we have to know, we have to be aware of it, because if you're not aware of it, if we don't see it concretely, then we won't see why we should make any changes.

Because we are more aware today and we see the issues. I believe it's her and leaders are looking for ways to change the way they operate in different ways. They talk to each other. They read more about the issues. They talk to experts as well regarding the issues. So it's a time where people are more open to this discussion and they also talk to their employees, which is very important.

So that's what I would say.

Speaking of world leaders, Chronicle of Philanthropy, which is a blogging and news article, website, released a really powerful article last year highlighting nonprofit leaders of colour and each had their own unique experiences for those listening. It's a really good read. They actually have quotes from people who gave their accounts of what it's like being a leader in the industry. But one quote that really stood out to me was Angela Williams, who is the CEO of Easter SEALs, and she said that it's always about going above and beyond.

When you're a minority, you can't really afford to make mistakes because they're not necessarily forgiven. It's about dotting the I's, crossing the T's and spending that extra time to prove that you deserve the position you hold. So I want to know, like what your thoughts on the statement or do you feel like that still stands in 2020?

Sadly, I would say that these articles are very interesting and insightful in the sense that it tells a lot about how important it is to create a more diverse environment where people can just be themselves. When you see when I've read the article, I also read the report, you can't really afford anything because they're not necessarily forgiven. It is a true statement and still stands in 2020 which is very sad because we can just hire black people to racialized people, minority groups, and then not supporting them as we will do for others.

And I think diversity and inclusion are more than just a movement right now. It should come with concrete actions as well as long term plans to change. And again, I will go back to adapt to H.R. process and approach because it comes together when you have a leader would tell you all the time that you're not doing the right job or you're not supporting you and you feel like, why is it always on my back when he's not with the others?

Well, there is something there is a mentality. There's something to change there. And it comes to the higher levels. And we should not be acting this way. We should act the same way with all employees and everybody. That's my point for sure. And I would say just to illustrate this quote, that I do remember myself with my own experience that when I was the manager, I had to prove myself every day, working twice as much as my colleague.

And even some of my colleagues will tell me, you know, you have to work twice as hard as us because that's the reality. As a black woman and I was younger at that time and it was pretty hard because you don't understand why you have to do more when you can just do your job because you were hired for a reason, for your qualifications, your experience and what you can bring to the organizations. So that what's really resonated with me.

I hope that's something that will change. I really hope so. But it comes to the top. 

Definitely. I hope so, too, because like I mentioned before, like half of Toronto are visible minorities, and especially in a sector like the nonprofit sector, where a lot of what drives decision making is what's best for the community, what's best for the people who need help. How is somebody who is in that demographic going to come into an institution and not see anyone who they relate with?

I think it's really hard in situations like that too, you know, not have people who are in these minority groups part of that conversation. So how can people who are trying to climb up that ladder kind of fight the system? What should they be doing to push equality, not even for themselves in their organization, but for others?

Well, first, I want to raise the fact that studies show that having diverse people in the organization or even on boards bring a different perspective. They come with their backgrounds. It brings a different dynamic. And it is very important. So as when people will understand that, they may look at it differently. So I just want to raise that point first and then second in terms of how can we just help each other?

Well, we have to mentor each other. We have to champion and sponsor each other. It is not an easy thing. And I remember when I came to Canada 10 years ago, I heard people telling me, well, you have to find a mentor. You have to, you know, to find someone who will push you. But then it's not easy to find that person because people don't have time. But I would say that you have to be connected.

You have to find a way to speak to people who are in the same industry. Be curious and do not hesitate to ask because that's something, yes, it is not easy to find a mentor, but I find that when you ask someone for help, they will always be happy to give you advice. And that's what we need sometimes. Sometimes we need to speak to someone who is more established or more experienced to help us and to push us and also to connect us to the right person, up to the right people in order to grow.

But it's always together. We cannot do it alone. I think I said out when I started, like at the beginning, as I said, that we cannot do it alone as a nonprofit organization, but also as an individual.

Yeah, I forgot the exact terminology is. But there's that system of there's you start with change within yourself and then they start to change within your immediate community or circle. And then it goes to like the institutions and the regional systems. So I think that the biggest thing that at least I try to do in my every day is to fight my bias and do the best that I can to make sure that everyone around me is getting heard and also that I'm getting heard and represented.

So, yeah, I think that a lot still needs to be done through these surveys. But, you know, having conversations like this is a great place to start.

That's it. Yes. Totally, I thank you for having this conversation. Sabrina, or any time.

I love hearing other people's perspectives. So this is no problem at all for me. I would love to know as somebody who obviously has a lot of experience with the not for profit sectors, and as a leader, what changes do you hope to see in this non-profit space within the next ten years? 

OK, well, it might seem utopian, but I hope we will have this conversation or this discussion in 10 years. Let's start with that. But more realistically, in 10 years, I hope to see a better representation of our society and leadership positions in nonprofit organizations, because for the reason we just mentioned.

We need to give a space for people to be themselves and to bring. different perspectives, different ways to lead as well. So, yes, that's what I really hope. That's what I really hope. I also want to say that.

We've seen our first Canadian women minister of finance appointed this week, and that's a huge step. So we are going in the right direction. I definitely think so. And we should just keep going this way to make sure that we are creating a better society.

One hundred percent, thank you so much for joining us. For more information or to contact Sabine, please give her website a visit at I've also included links to the Woman Entrepreneurship Hub, an organization that Sabine has worked closely with, and it's a great resource for women in Canada to learn more about entrepreneurship. I have also included links to all the resources we discussed today in our description box.

So if you have five minutes, definitely check those out. As always, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.



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