Some heavyweights among Omaha social services agencies got failing grades on a diversity report released Wednesday.
The report looked at how well the agencies resemble the racial and ethnic diversity and gender makeup of the community.
The Progressive Research Institute of Nebraska, which did the study, found that the Omaha nonprofits have more racial and ethnic diversity but less gender diversity than their counterparts in a national study.
However, the report gave passing grades to all nine agencies studied when looking at diversity among both employees and board members, rather than employees or board members alone.
“This is very encouraging because it indicates that among these organizations, diversity is on its way to being achieved,” the report said. “In other words, we think the glass is half full.”
Jack Dunn, executive director of the research institute, an Omaha-based think tank, said that the findings were somewhat unexpected.
“What surprised me right off the bat is Omaha seems to do a little better than the national average,” he said. “Unfortunately, that's setting a very low bar.”
The report gave F's to four well-known agencies for their lack of diversity either among employees or among board members: Lutheran Family Services, Goodwill in Omaha, Building Bright Futures and Nebraska Families Collaborative.
However, Lutheran Family Services disputed the figures used in the report, which faulted the statewide agency for a lack of racial, ethnic and gender diversity on its board.
Ruth Henrichs, Lutheran Family Service's president and CEO, said that the report listed an incorrect number of board members, which makes the board appear much less diverse than it is.
She said the agency works to recruit board members representing diverse racial and ethnic groups, parts of the state, occupations and ages, as well as both men and women.
The report stated that research shows agencies are more successful when they can work effectively with people of different cultures. One way to do that is to have racial, ethnic and gender diversity among employees and board members, the report said.
Karen Abrams, one of the report's lead authors, said that diversity alone does not make an agency successful. She said the report does not reflect how well organizations fulfill their missions.
Anne Hindery, who heads the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, said she has some concerns about the methodology used in the study.
In measuring racial and ethnic diversity, the report looked at the percentage of white people versus the percentage of those from minority groups.
The percentages were then compared with U.S. census figures for Omaha or, in the case of statewide agencies, for Nebraska.
Hindery said that it might be better to compare agencies with their peers.
She also said that agencies face different situations. Some have greater diversity because their funding sources require it, for example.
But she said the report serves a useful function by bringing attention to the issue and sparking discussion about it.
Frank McGree, Goodwill Industries president, said his organization has known about the lack of diversity on its board and wants to make changes. The Goodwill board scored low on racial, ethnic and gender diversity.
He said he expects that the report will spur action, but he noted that board turnover and recruitment take time.
“You can't just snap your fingers. It takes a while,” he said.
Ken Bird, interim director of Building Bright Futures, said that agency scored low on racial and ethnic diversity because board members have represented the donors who fund the agency.
But he said the organization is going through changes, including a rethinking of who should be on the board. Bird said he expects that the new board will try to add diversity.
David Newell, executive director of Nebraska Families Collaborative, said that agency's employees are predominantly female because women dominate the social services workforce.
He said the agency wants to have a workforce that reflects the community but that it struggles with a shortage of qualified child welfare workers.
“Obviously, we would like to have good men and women with a diverse background,” Newell said.