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Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Legislation Is A Key Item For The Nonprofit Board Agenda

Diversity, equity & inclusion legislation for your volunteer board agenda


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) remains an important priority for every industry, including — and perhaps especially — mission-driven organizations. Nonprofits’ commitment to providing accessible services and supporting the greater good go hand-in-hand with the values and priorities of DEI efforts.

And employees and other groups are noticing. A 2023 Pew Center study, for example, found that a majority of surveyed employees say these efforts at work are a good thing.

We’re providing a brief overview of the current diversity legislation and how it impacts health and social care, education, and the workplace in general. Diversity and inclusion practices make for good nonprofit board discussions and, in many cases, are a necessary part of legal compliance.

What you’ll learn

  1. Who’s impacted by discrimination
  2. General legislation on equality and diversity
  3. DE&I legislation in health and social care
  4. Legislation for DE&I in education
  5. Diversity in the workplace legislation
  6. What nonprofit boards should do next

Discrimination can affect anyone

Discrimination can affect anyone in the groups identified by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition to gender, religion, race and national origin, people can experience bias due to age, disability, genetic information and status as a parent.

For example, the U.S. Social Security Administration’s disability and death probability tables predict that one in four of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year because of a disabling condition before they reach the normal retirement age.

Key issues, legislation and codes of practice relating to diversity are important topics to put on your nonprofit board agenda because they affect your board, staff, employees, donors and stakeholders.

Current legislation on equality and diversity

The landmark U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 laid the groundwork for equality and protections in the workplace, education, federally funded programs and public spaces. Efforts continue to develop similar legislation that strengthens protections for specific groups.

The Equality Act was reintroduced to Congress in 2023 and remains in committee. It would expand federal civil rights laws to protect people in the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination in employment, housing, credit, jury service and all programs that receive federal funding. This would include programs that provide health services and education. It would also apply to public places and spaces.

There’s strong support for the Equality Act among organizations and the general public. Over 500 businesses have joined together under the Business Coalition for the Equality Act in support of this legislation. A 2022 poll showed that about 80% of Americans support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination legislation, including 90% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans.

The United Kingdom consolidated various anti-discrimination laws in its own Equality Act of 2010, which offers protections to groups based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership (in employment only), pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Last year, the Equality Act was amended to require employers to take “reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment of employees.

Equality and diversity in legislation in health and social care

Most of us will rely on healthcare services at some point in our lifetimes. Many people also depend on social services to meet their daily needs.

U.S. legislation affecting healthcare nonprofits

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is woven so deeply into the fiber of U.S. architecture, digital communication and social services that it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist. Infractions — such as those leading to the lawsuit against a new NY library with an inaccessible space — can make national or even international news. The ADA spells out how its rules apply in employment (Title I), to public services (Title II) and to public accommodations (Title III). A 2008 amendment clarified the definition of disability.

Section 1908 of the Public Health Service Act specifically applies to programs, services and activities funded by Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grants and prohibits discrimination against several protected classes.

U.K. legislation affecting healthcare nonprofits

The following laws have been enacted to support people who rely on healthcare and social services:

  • The Human Rights Act (1988) outlines basic human rights and principles of equality, including fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy.
  • The Mental Capacity Act (2005) supports vulnerable individuals who can’t maintain their independence by giving them the right to dignity and equality.
  • The Care Act of 2014 ensures that adults are allowed to give consent for their care. It also states that their care should be tailored to them, and they should be able to choose the services they need.

As the library example suggests, while all people should have equal access to services, it takes conscious effort to meet the basics of these laws. Anyone who works in the field of health or social services should be familiar with and abide by them.

Equality and diversity in education legislation

Education at both the pre-K through 12 and college level has seen much pushback against equality and diversity legislation, even while the student population shows increasing diversity. Consider these statistics:

These numbers illustrate the need for teachers to incorporate culturally responsive practices in their classrooms, at every level of education. In addition to race and ethnicity, students need equal protection in the areas of religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity and foreign languages.

The 2023 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended race-based college admissions decisions is still having ripples at the postsecondary level, but also at high schools — where students and counselors need to strategize applications differently. For most nonprofit educational institutions, the decision may not have had immediate ramifications, but many analysts are expecting foundations that provide race-based grants may soon face challenges.

However, other established laws still provide protection in education including the Every Student Succeeds Act that reauthorized the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. All children have a right to a free and appropriate public education as a basic constitutional right, including students that reside in the U.S. illegally.

In the U.K., the 2010 Equality Act includes provisions around schools and students inherited from previous legislation while also expanding protections for pupils who are pregnant or have recently given birth, or who are undergoing gender reassignment. Schools also may not ask potential employees for health information unless the questions relate to “an intrinsic function of the work.”

It’s not only students who need such protections. Educational institutions also employ large numbers of diverse people, and they need equal protection too, which brings us to the next topic — legislation regulating diversity in the workplace.

Diversity in the workplace legislation

As an employer, your nonprofit board is responsible for ensuring that employees have the proper training to promote and enforce a diverse workplace. All workers are entitled to certain protections within the workplace under state and federal laws. Employers are required to provide their workers with a fair and safe work environment.

In addition to the ADA and its amendments, several laws have been passed over the last 50 years to prevent unlawful and unfair employment practices. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964)
  • Equal Pay Act (1963)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1969)
  • Rehabilitation Act (1973)
  • Civil Rights Act (1991)
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (2008)

Board members and senior leaders should be aware of the elements of these laws to ensure they understand the principles, especially when undertaking diversity planning. Be aware that by ignoring the importance of workplace diversity legislation, the actions and behaviors of people who work for your nonprofit could pose risks to your nonprofit that lead to lawsuits, fines and other legal issues.

The U.K.’s Equality Act applies in the workplace as well, with one resource explaining simply, “The Act makes it law that every private, public and voluntary organization must not discriminate against their employees or the people that use their services because of their particular characteristics.”

Next steps for nonprofit boards

Diversity, equity and inclusion issues should be a key part of planning the board meeting agenda. Here are some actions you can take to support fair employment practices within your nonprofit:

  • Get familiar with your state’s or country’s employment laws. Relevant documents and links can be made available and accessible in the team’s board management software.
  • Implement an equal opportunity employment policy. Your board management software can expedite policy review and approval, and secure workrooms enable your board, committee or working group to meet and collaborate on sensitive matters.
  • Train your managers, employees and board members about employment laws. Training materials can be housed in your board management software and made available to all stakeholders.
  • Promote an inclusive culture within your nonprofit, including diversity as a key factor in board strategic planning. With surveys, custom fields and reporting features, your board management software simplifies the process of evaluating board composition and visualizing progress toward its diversity goals.

We at Diligent understand the unique needs of board members of mission-driven organizations and the many factors that go into creating fair and equitable service-oriented environments. With BoardEffect, we offer a solution that supports boards as they navigate the changing needs of their organizations while honoring the missions that guide them.

Jennifer Rose Hale

Jennifer Rose Hale has over 20 years' experience with digital and employee communications in for- and nonprofit environments. Her writing and client areas of expertise include education, finance, science and technology.

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