Board Diversity: We talk about it but what does it mean?Oct 31, 2022
There has been a lot of discussion about diversity, equity and inclusion over the past few decades, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Yet, organizational leadership has remained relatively homogenous both at senior management levels and at board tables. The higher the level of influence, the less representation of women and gender-diverse people, persons with disabilities, people of the global majority, and LGBTQ2SI+ community members.
Boards are keen to diversify and include new perspectives at the table. But are they ready? What is keeping people from equity-seeking groups from engaging in traditional governance roles?
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There are certain conditions that can be set by the board to create a culture that is welcoming and inclusive to people who bring different lived experiences and perspectives from the norm.
This can include:
- investing in equity, diversity, and inclusion training to understand why representation matters and how to create a culture of belonging;
- improving recruitment practices to include open calls for nominations;
- diversifying advertising of board positions to include a wider target audience;
- introducing a “minimum two” approach to ensure a person from an equity-seeking group is not the “only” (this avoids feelings of tokenism).
In order for people with different perspectives to be fully included and engaged, boards need to look closely at who currently holds power, and have a willingness to shift as new voices come around the table.
It is important to start with understand the WHY and then to figure out the HOW.
If boards do not put in this work, they may recruit people from equity-seeking groups and expect them to adapt to a dominant culture. In doing so, they are missing out on the value that their new members can bring. This defeats the purpose of diversifying in the first place.
The benefit of diverse boards is not just to look different.
It is to become different.
Zahra Esmail is Chief Executive Officer of Vantage Point, a not-for-profit that serves 1500 other not-for-profits through education, consulting and resources. She is a senior-level non-profit leader with extensive local and international experience building organizational effectiveness to enhance service delivery and positively impact diverse communities. In 2019, Zahra was recognized by Business in Vancouver as a “Forty Under Forty” leader.
Readers will be particularly interested in Vantage Point’s Board Diversity and Inclusion workshop that was created to address some of the challenges Ishe mentioned in this piece.
Zahra Esmail can be reached at [email protected].
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