Make your boards more diverse, now!

By Bonnie J. Walker

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The impact of board members, at the highest level of an organization’s governing body, is critical to what happens in any organization.

In addition to varied business expertise, financial support, and community connections to elevate the organizational mission, a board member’s culture and life experiences provide a network or connection to the business community. people it racially represents. This happens due to shared or some overlap of identity-based lived experience.

Board members of color are critical to supporting diverse voters in historically marginalized networks. Additionally, a racially diverse board can better navigate difficult conversations, addressing concerns in governance actions that may uniquely or disproportionately affect people of color, who have specific needs.

As businesses and schools become more diverse, it becomes even more imperative that boards reflect this diversity. Boards benefit from a variety of perspectives. Having access to these different perspectives is invaluable when making important decisions, including finances, employee salaries and department structures, training, classroom curriculum, policies and practices.

It’s time for board members to ask some tough and important questions:

• How do we center all members of the community in every decision we make? Are we welcoming to all voters? Are we marketing and communicating well with all potential community members?

• How are all members of the community affected by our current policies and practices and the new policies and practices being implemented? Are certain populations within the community unfairly affected?

A progressive board has members who have a range of experience to help examine new opportunities, calculate risk and anticipate varied and multifaceted challenges. More diverse boards are more likely to prioritize diversity and appoint more racially diverse leaders.

Having multiple perspectives from different board members on the potential outcomes or consequences of an action can result in more thorough decision-making and better problem solving.

Here are three tips on what boards should proactively do to diversify:

1. Review and revise recruitment procedures, with introspection on issues difficult to status quo:

• To what extent do directors rely on personal relationships to identify candidate directors? What is the demographic composition of directors’ professional and social networks, which can be consulted to access a more diverse candidate pool?

• What factors are used to exclude candidates? How to formalize decision-making processes?

• What prior experience is needed to become a board member?

• What processes and activities can be used to build relationships between new directors and existing directors?

2. Be responsible. When a position on the Board of Directors needs to be filled, a diverse pool of candidates is considered.

3. Prioritize mentorship and sponsorship. Formal mentoring and sponsorship can be helpful in providing valuable connections.

An excellent resource, posted on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, is a research paper, Addressing the Challenge of Board Racial Diversity, by Cydney Posner, Cooley LLP. The article references the Williams survey, conducted with the aim of capturing the experiences of veteran black directors. The survey offers 10 key points to help increase racial diversity on corporate boards.

Businesses face bigger, more complex and dynamic issues; diversity on their boards of directors is essential to meet these new challenges. Being a model of diversity at the highest level is responsible and conscientiously reflects the constituents served.

Bonnie J. Walker is Director of Equity and Inclusion at Worcester Academy. Contact her at [email protected]