Ep 198: Challenging the Status Quo in Long-Standing Organizations (with Cica Dadjo)

by Joan Garry

What is the secret to implementing DEI strategy in long-standing nonprofit organizations? Cica Dadjo, Chief GEDI at the IRC, shares universal lessons that can help nonprofit leaders disrupt the status quo of organizational culture.


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“Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

You have probably heard that before. It is a hallmark statement of entrenched, comfortable organizational culture. Especially so in long-standing organizations. 

But, to instill and nurture a nonprofit culture that is not only hospitable but hungry for ever-improving spaces of safety and inclusion, a “comfortable” culture is counterproductive. 

Thus, the burning question:

How can an organization with established culture and systems create a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy that disrupts the status quo?

The exploration of this topic, from the perspective of the woman who led the effort to create the first-ever DEI strategy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), fascinated me. This is not a conversation of intellectual hypotheticals and hypotheses; this woman speaks of the strategy effort in the past tense because she did it

And she did it during the COVID pandemic, after the racial reckoning of George Floyd, after only a year in her last DEI role, and as the only Black woman on a gender equality team, she became the Chief Gender, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (GEDI) Officer. 

Meet Cica Dadjo, the Chief GEDI (pronounced “Jed·ī”) at her nonprofit organization. You would be correct to assume from the pronunciation of her title that her work has power and universal impact. But, no, she does not carry a lightsaber. However, given the difficulty of the task and the mindfulness needed to succeed, she probably should. 

With over 17 years of experience assisting organizations in challenging and shifting structures that perpetuate inequality as well as building inclusive cultures, Cica is no stranger to disrupting the status quo. 

In her role as Chief GEDI, she and her team applied a feminist lens to DEI and opened the scope wider on inclusion to devise a global organizational vision that set a new standard while enabling localized and contextual customization. 

The approach is evolutionary, subversive, and delightfully refreshing.

In this episode, she shares the universal lessons on DEI adoption including the best approach, how to assemble a team, what to know before beginning, and 5 mindset shifts that every leader will need to succeed.

Tune in to learn:

  • What does it mean to incorporate gender into DEI work?
  • What are the universal lessons of creating a gender, equity, diversity, and inclusion (GEDI) culture?
  • How did the IRC equalize all voices within the organization?
  • What specifically did the organization’s global vision include? How was it customizable for local and contextual adoption?
  • What responsibilities must leaders develop and support in order to support true GEDI culture?


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