Insights: Article

The Case for Board Diversity

By Peggy Jennings

March 27, 2018

The subject of board diversity has had considerable attention, especially with respect to nonprofit boards. Factors typically considered include age, race and gender. Less tangible factors would include education and professional experience as well as life experience.

Why Does This Matter?
Simply put, board diversity aims to foster more relevant discussion and decisions by calling on diverse viewpoints and perspectives. Such expanded discussion is expected to lead to more effective decision making.

Are We Making any Progress?
A recent study, “Leading with Intent – 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices” by BoardSource, concluded that “boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago.” And details within the study indicate that 65 percent of CEOs reported dissatisfaction with the level of diversity on their boards.

The study contains valuable information to consider when evaluating your achievement of diversity goals. But let’s not conclude that efforts being made are ineffective to achieve this goal. Given the existence of board terms for most nonprofit organizations, changing the composition of the board can be a long-term project.

What Steps Should Be Taken?
First ensure that your organization has a clearly defined reason for desiring board diversity. If diversity will truly help the organization make better decisions, then ensure you have a clear plan for identifying and attracting prospective board members who have the skill sets and experience needed to achieve this goal.

An active nomination committee is key. The committee should carefully consider the skills and expertise of current board members, then consider the additional competencies that would bring value to the organization. The committee will then need to seek candidates outside of their personal contacts and networks, and these efforts will take time.

And, once you begin to achieve diversity on your board, encourage open discussion and exchange of information so that you can realize your goal of better decision-making.

A More Valuable Experience
Board diversity is so much more than simply changing the outward appearance of the board by balancing age, gender and race attributes. Board diversity is truly achieved by valuing what your board members bring to the table—diverse educational and cultural backgrounds as well as personal experiences. Remember that the goal of diversity is to foster expanded discussion and consideration of diverse perspectives; bringing balanced decisions to ensure the nonprofit’s mission remains relevant in its community.

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