After a report revealed that inequities exist when it comes to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of people of color for leadership positions in afterschool programs, the National AfterSchool Association is piloting a program to address the racial leadership gap.
The National AfterSchool Association realized that while many of the people who worked in afterschool programs reflected the diversity of their communities, few of the leaders heading up those programs did. In a bid to address this inequity, NAA is piloting a new program: the Professional Learning Community (PLC) for Emerging Leaders of Color.
“All of this came out of this report we released addressing the racial leadership gap,” said Gina Warner, president and CEO of NAA.
The Afterschool Leadership Landscape: Supporting and Strengthening Racial Equity report, funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, offered five recommendations for supporting leaders of color: ensure leadership is multidimensional, provide ongoing opportunities, be aware of unique experiences and influences brought by participants, help build capacity and confidence, and collect data on demographics.
The pilot program will address these recommendations by offering programming aimed at improving leadership skills, fostering networking and career planning, and encouraging participants to become “agents of change in the afterschool field.”
The pilot is small, with the group selecting 12 participants from more than 300 applicants. “We wanted people who were seeking to grow and build their networks,” Warner said. “This will help to build the skill and capacity of individuals and will help them advocate for changes at their organizations.”
The pilot cohort will first meet at the NAA’s national convention next month, and the program will last six months. Warner hopes to expand the pilot program to accommodate more people, as the demand for this is high.
While this pilot is funded through a grant, Warner said other associations facing diversity problems can make changes that are low-cost. “For association leaders, it’s about what can you do with the opportunities and resources you have, once you’ve decided that this is an issue,” she said.
The PLC pilot is the result of years of work that started with low- or no-cost items. “We began about five years ago with next-generation leader awards, a low-cost opportunity to activate this, to recognize leaders who were emerging,” she said. “We used our convention to have some conversations and talk to some national funders about what we could do. And then we began to tap into our membership database to look into the data we had.”
But NAA soon realized it didn’t have enough information about its 32,000 members. “We were really not collecting the data we needed to inform projects like this,” Warner said. “We are doing a better job at collecting now: information on positions, like their title, also their racial and ethnic background. Combined with years of service and educational levels, this gives us a fuller picture of what leadership looks like and where there are gaps.”
While the pilot program is a good start, Warner believes associations are uniquely positioned to lead on systemic change issues.
“Focusing on individual capacity isn’t enough; there needs to be systemic change that happens,” she said. “As a national membership organization, we have to look at these policies and how can we prioritize this as an issue for our field.”