Toward a more Inclusive Board…

10/04/19 Every nonprofit we’re working with, expresses the desire to have a more diverse board. Yet every year, board chairs, Finance and Governance committee chairs, and Board Treasurers continue to be mostly white. The desire is there but not a proactive plan based on assessment of what the board needs and assignments for a recruitment plan.

By now, most in the nonprofit community, understand the meaning of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the different meanings of each. Simplistically, Diversity is about representation; Equity is about fairness based on respect; and Inclusion is about participation and encouraging contributions by all and proactively working together to create a culture that welcomes all.

Most boards are working on Diversity, trying to recruit more people of color to their boards. Though not as aggressively recruiting people of color into roles of power on their boards, such as the finance and governance committees, Board Treasurer, and other officer positions. When asked, most of those recruiting for the board will say some version of, ”It’s the right thing to do”.

Because we don’t have many truly inclusive boards to view as models, it’s hard for the true benefits to stand out and be apparent. However: better and more innovative decisions, greater representative voices in the room, and different life experiences are present when there is more diversity. The Boston Consulting Group has found and reported that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. McKenzie and Company found corporations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. They also had a 27% likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation. And the Ford Foundation having varied perspectives helps generate better ideas to solve the complex problems of a changing—and increasingly diverse—world.

Certainly, most of us have experienced that diversity and a culture of inclusion helps us attract, recruit and retain talent, changes our organization culture and leads to decision making in ways that homogenous environments cannot.

Still our diversity numbers in the nonprofit sector for senior leadership lag behind for-profit corporations across the country. In Charlotte, the number of people of color in Executive nonprofit CEO roles is less than the national average and the same is true for the people of color serving as board chairs for large nonprofit organizations. In 2016, the Building Movement Project conducted a national survey on race and leadership in nonprofits. “Survey respondents, especially people of color (POC), agreed/strongly agreed that executive recruiters don’t do enough to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for top-level nonprofit positions (80% POC vs 67% whites), predominately white boards often don’t support the leadership potential of staff of color (71% POC vs 62% whites), and organizations often rule out candidates of color based on the perceived “fit” with the organization (66% POC vs 48% whites). This last question often reflects implicit bias. “

And the Race to Lead survey found it is not about being unable to find candidates with the same qualifications, education and experience levels as whites. It is about an uneven playing field.

This uneven playing field, and implicit bias, is evident in our lack of results to change the diversity of Board and Staff leadership in nonprofits. Nationally, less than 20 % CEO’s and Board Chairs are people of color and this number has not changed in over 15 years.

If we really believed the business case – increased revenues, better decisions, innovative solutions and better talent, we would have changed this.

It is actually absurd to even need to build a business case for diversity of nonprofit leadership: needing to have a strong business rationale in order to have a board and senior staff that look like where you live and those you serve. “It is statistically improbable that senior ranks would be devoid of women and people of color, considering the makeup of our country”, Forbes 2018. Statistically, it’s improbable yet it’s the norm. That speaks to needing systemic change.

We know how to find an attorney to add to our board when needed. We think of the skills, expertise, and law firms that would support our mission and starting asking around, having coffee, phone calls to others in the firm to see who they know, and keeping that slot on the board open until we find the right lawyer. We also expect the nominated attorney to give and get resources to support the organization, to be an ambassador, to offer sound opinions. As we would with anyone we recruit.

The issue seems to be our networks and processes for board recruiting and our implicit bias about our ideas of the ideal board member. How can we overcome ourselves to be more successful in increasing the diversity, equity and inclusion of the board?

– Have more deliberate, perhaps difficult, conversations with our current board
– Ask people who have keen awareness and communication skills to be champions for this and help the board recognize policies, criteria, and issues that are exclusive
– Expand our networks with people of color
– Begin work on ‘auditing’ internal processes, including recruiting staff and board to identify cultural barriers to inclusion and equity
– Work with consultants who are race conscious regardless of what services you are contracting with them – including those who are helping with board development, strategic planning, program evaluation, tax preparation.
– Have internal champions as well as board champions who can identify and raise flags when some process or policy might be exclusive. And more difficult, help identify when a discussion or meeting doesn’t seem to foster full participation and equal weight to all participating. 

And of course, get started. Finding the right board member and developing an engaged, inclusive board takes deliberate planning, assignments, and time.