The Top 5 Elements of a Truly Diverse Board

Nikki Rashada McCord

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Nikki McCord at the McCord Consulting Group, whose expertise is board governance and diversity.

Think about your current board of directors. Is it populated with only retired people? Are your directors made up of people who work in finance either as accountants, financial advisers or bank executives? Would you describe your current board of directors as pale/male/stale? If any of these scenarios apply to your current board, your board is not diverse. Diversity is more than adding women or people of color to your board. Diversity means a variety of things such as age groups, sexual orientations, and occupations. Board diversity is essential if you want your board to remain relevant and innovative. So, how do you know if your board is truly diverse? Look for these 5 elements

1) Pale/Stale/Male

I wish I was clever enough to come up with the trope pale/stale/male. I first saw it referenced in an article about the relationship between diverse boards and your CEO. But the adage works in aspects of board diversity as well. If you look at your board and see the same type of people, you’re not diverse. Diversity includes recruiting and retaining a variety of ethnicities and genders on your Board of Directors.

2) Young versus Old

Don’t forget about age diversity on your board. Millennial board members will bring a worldview that will be beneficial when thinking about your constituents and the direction of your board. If everyone on your board is retired and not interested in connecting with emerging technologies and innovations, your constituents could be missing out. Think about the time of day you hold your meetings. Perhaps changing your meeting time from the afternoon to the evening could encourage young professionals to join your board.

3) Country Club Friends

If you’re sitting on a board with the same people with whom you play tennis every Tuesday and who go to your same synagogue, your Board is not diverse. While it’s nice to be on a board with your friends who think similarly to yourself, you’re doing your board a disservice by not diversifying the voices and experience. Dissent and conflict are not detrimental to your board, but rather enhance the decisions that you make. Conflict can be collaborative in that it forces people to think outside of their own sphere and consider new ideas. If your board is fearful of conflict or don’t know how to manage conflict in a constructive manner, bring in a facilitator who will help you come to consensus while controlling the dissent.

4) Economic Diversity

Whether your nonprofit serves the community at large or an individual issue, it’s important to have economic diversity on your board. Economic diversity helps with issues like pricing for events and understanding the benefits of economic freedom and the challenges of economic constraints. While you always want board directors who are able to help financially support the organization, you also need to consider those who interact with your organization and may not have the resources of a board member who can write a check instead of selling ten tickets to your annual fundraising event. Especially if your organization sells tickets of any kind, it’s important to have economic diversity on your board so those board members can inform your price point. Young alumni, alumni with young families, and senior alumni may have vastly different spending power but they all have a desire to support your alumni organization. Board directors can inform the price point that is comfortable for them while also meeting your fundraising goals. Economic diversity on your board ensures you continue to have a mix of directors at different stages of their life who are able to contribute to the success of your organization.

5) You Can’t Just Have One

Imagine this scenario. You, as a white woman, joined the board of the Humane Society and the board is made up entirely of black women. Your motivation for joining the board is because, like the Black women on the board, you care deeply about the welfare of animals. But, as you continue to sit on the board, you begin to understand that Black women have their own sisterhood, their own language with each other, and a couple have similar life experiences. And, these Black women keep asking your opinion on how the Humane Society could have better outreach to low income women who may need assistance caring for their pets when they go through a job loss or other economic disruption. If these women took the time to get to know you, they’d realize that you don’t have any experience being low income and you’ve never worked outside the home so you have no experience with how to deal with this population. Just because you look like the demographic the organization would like to reach doesn’t mean you have experience with that population. As a white woman, it would be easier to have another white woman or another white man on the board who may have had experience with this population to inform the board’s decision. It’s hard being the ‘token’ , and it’s devastating to have full knowledge that you are a token in any situation. If your board has taken the time to successfully recruit for a diverse director, congratulations! Now, get out there and do it again. Diversity does not equal one diverse person. Diversity means recruiting for several diverse factors that will help advance the mission of your organization.



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