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Decolonizing Human Resource Policies for Nonprofits, by Andrea Francis

It has been several months since the emergency declaration over the COVID-19 pandemic has been called off. However, the disparate effects that it had on historically marginalized communities and the inequalities of work places have continued to linger. The effects it had on the economy were felt the most in historically marginalized communities. The pandemic not only disrupted lives, it also had a tremendous effect on how workers began to prioritize self-care, wages and treatment at work. People of Color, Black, Indigenous and other-abled have faced discrimination in the workplace for long enough. It is now time to consider learning more than just Diversity, Equity and Inclusion principles but to actually put them to practice by decolonizing internal policies and by creating new policies that disrupt racism and ableist practices and address inequalities suffered by marginalized people. It is time to rethink how we add humane values to Human Resources to ensure retention of talent, inspire creativity and nurture unity.

Decolonization has been defined simply as, ”the action or process of a state withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent.” However, it is commonly thought that colonization leaves behind systems and establishments that have long lasting negative impacts. Therefore we will use the definition that has been redefined by indigenous scholars, “Decolonization is the ongoing and active resistance against colonial powers and a shifting of power towards an indigenous value system of political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence.

This includes the process of deconstruction of colonial oppression in all systems and structures while realizing indigenous liberation.”1

Human resources is defined as the department within a company or organization that manages personnel including hiring, training and handling employee relations.2 Today’s human resource management has the dual purpose of protecting the interests of the organization and meeting the needs of employees. With this in mind, It is necessary to come to terms with the history and legacy of colonization on human resources and the role it has played in the exploitation and oppression of marginalized groups including those who are historically affected by chattel slavery.3 The same methods of development and enforcement of personnel policies are the same methods developed that encompassed the buying and selling of people.4 As we reconcile the past and recognize the impact of slavery and other forms of exploitation, we have the chance to reshape the field of HR and the way we operate with intention.

Learning about and implementing the required human resource policies for a nonprofit organization is a necessity. For instance, we must ensure that the proper percentages of taxes are taken out of employee wages and follow guidelines of state and federal requirements providing general protections to our workforce. While the legality of human resource policies is


incumbent, internal policies should surely reflect the values and mission of an organization. Businesses and companies have the overall goal of profit in mind but nonprofit goals are driven by the mission and vision of the organization. We must consider, however, why the nonprofit industrial complex was developed and how it has benefited from that oppressive model and actively work to dismantle those systems of oppression.

Nonprofit organizations tax law enacted between 1894 to 1969 allow for tax exempt donations to be given to charities by foundations, individuals and corporations.5 While the aim of nonprofits has been to benefit society they have also had the effect of diverting money and controlling activism through capitalism.6 Capitalism and the origins of this country were built upon the enslavement of African and Native American people and the genocide of Native Americans.7

As more and more organizations are connecting these realizations, there is an effort to change policies from within. Part of restructuring human resources comes from a people-centered view of the work-place that has been influenced by African, Native-American and other indigenous cultures that are moving on from their colonial oppressive practices in favor of a more nurturing view of retaining skilled expertise.8 By changing human resource practices such as hiring, work week practices, PTO policies, on-boarding practices, professional development, succession planning and conflict resolution management, nonprofits can be more aligned with the decolonized view of human resource administration.

Beginning to evaluate the policies within an organization can take time but will help to challenge the dominant narrative from within. Many organizations are beginning to look externally for consultants to help examine what policies could be keeping oppressive systems in place. Hiring someone to look objectively at your policies can be a good start. A diversity, equity and inclusion consultant can work at every level of how a nonprofit influences the field. Looking internally is usually the first place a consultant will begin to work.

Diversity of staff and boards begins with decolonization of hiring and recruiting practices. Creating a workplace culture that is inclusive and open where people see themselves being represented and valued. While creating new policies for hiring and bringing in board members with lived experience is a good place to start, it is also important to consider the power structure within an organization.

The dominant narrative tells us that there is a hierarchy that must be adhered to, leaving no platform for diverse or marginalized voices. Changing human resource practices to promote and create safe places for staff to share their experiences and perspectives can change the way in which knowledge is produced and disseminated. This will help leadership incorporate a set of


more diverse ideas and perspectives. In addition, by creating safe spaces for people to voice concerns or conflicts, ensures there is a balance of power between different groups. These kinds of changes will benefit employee morale and ensure retainment of a talented and diverse workforce.

The path to decolonizing human resources through anti-racist policy change within an organization is long. It is an ongoing journey for any organization and it takes work. The work requires a commitment to ongoing learning and reflection. This kind of iterative process involves engaging regularly with staff and board on issues related to decolonization practices and seeking out opportunities to learn from and collaborate with individuals from marginalized communities. It also includes regularly examining privilege in order to dismantle the systems of oppression.9 The more this framework of decolonizing human resources is evaluated and adopted, the potential for the field to change into a more just and equitable space.


1. For Indigenous Minds Only, A Decolonization Waziyatawin, Yellow Bird. M, pg 65

2. Forbes Shweta, Bottoroff, C.

3 & 4. The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management. Johnston, K.

5. A History of the Tax-Exempt Sector: An SOI Perspective. Arnsberger, P., Ludlum, M., Riley, M., Stanton, M.

6 & 7. Incite! The Revolution Will Not be Funded. The Political Logic of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Rodriguez, D. p23.    dustrial-complex-2.pdf

8. Decolonizing Nonprofit Organizations. Video

9. Addressing Racial Equity With an Organizational Change Fong-Olivares, Y. y-with-an-organizational-change-lens.

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