By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2018 March 13
Read time: 2.5 minutes
We’re honoured to partner with CanadaHelps in supporting corporate social responsibility and strengthening nonprofit board leadership throughout Canada. Here’s our blog post that was originally published in the CanadaHelps newsletter.
It was iconic, even memorable, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded: “Because it’s 2015!” to the question as to why his new cabinet was half-female. But fast-forward a couple of years later and take a look around. From government to the C-Suite and so much in between, there are many places where we still painfully lack diversity. For non-profits, it’s no different as many board of directors do not reflect the diverse beneficiaries that their nonprofits serve.
Diversity in this context covers both identity diversity (i.e gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation) and cognitive diversity (i.e. skills, perspectives, thoughts, worldview).
Nonprofits are a force for good because they work hard to solve the world’s most complex challenges. So it is very important for nonprofits to get the right people on their boards. By recruiting board directors that reflect the diversity of a nonprofit’s beneficiaries, a board strengthens its leadership that is critical for the nonprofit to advance its mission and create meaningful social impact.
The Diversity Gap
According to the Boardsource’s Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices report, the levels of board diversity in the United States have not changed. 84 percent of board directors are Caucasian and 27 percent of boards identify as all white. Minorities and People of Colour represent at most 18 percent of board membership. This is the case despite the volumes of research illustrating the positive correlation between a diverse board and an effective board.
In Canada, the Diversity in Governance 2010 report noted that Ontario’s nonprofit sector had 386,000 volunteer board members. However, only 11.9 percent were visible minorities as juxtaposed to 49.5 percent visible minorities comprising the entire Ontario population. Also, only 28.6 percent of the charities and 33.3 percent of the foundations surveyed had boards that were all white, with no visible minorities whatsoever sitting on their boards. Similarly, in a 2005 study of Alberta’s nonprofit sector, only 5 percent of senior management positions were held by visible minorities as compared to 11 percent visible minorities comprising the province’s population.
So why is there still a lack of diversity in nonprofit boards? It’s because boards fail to expressly identify diversity as a high priority in board recruitment. Though they understand the importance of diversity, boards continue to recruit in the same way they always have, by tapping potential candidates from the same personal network of connections of existing board directors. People who look, act, and think like them.
Why Board Diversity Matters
The diversity gap in nonprofit boards is undoubtedly a wasted opportunity. Why? Because a nonprofit board is the brains behind every nonprofit organization. This team of volunteer leaders wields the authority and influence to drive a nonprofit’s strategic direction, effective performance, and social impacts. If the nonprofit board lacks diversity, it may succumb to groupthink, which stifles innovation and creativity and creates mediocre decisions at best.
According to the Conference Board of Canada’s The Value of Diverse Leadership report, there are many reasons why board diversity matters:
3 Ways to Mind the Diversity Gap
So, you want to diversify your board? BoardSource recommends three ways that a board can strengthen its current recruitment practices to mind the diversity gap.
Board diversity strengthens leadership, and as Jacqueline Woodson so eloquently expressed: “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
Many companies have gender parity in middle management. But this gender parity disappears because only a few women move up to senior leadership roles. These companies know that it goes against well-documented evidence that more women in senior leadership roles correlates to better corporate performance.
Men are promoted more often than women - but it's not because women have opted out of the career advancement track for family reasons. Moreover, women ask for promotions and …
"Diversity and inclusion has become a CEO-level issue around the world," observed Deloitte in its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report. "The era of diversity as a 'check the box' initiative owned by HR is over. CEOs must take ownership and drive accountability among leaders at all levels to close the gap between what is said and actual impact".
So what happens when a CEO does not prioritize diversity and inclusion?
Let's take the story of global retailer H&M as an example.
Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015!’ response to why his new cabinet was half-female was iconic and memorable, even hopeful and encouraging.
So it was deeply disappointing to read the BoardSource 2017 Report released yesterday on its particular findings on nonprofit board diversity. Yes, it’s 2017 and there’s still no diversity in nonprofit boards. After two years since its last national survey, nonprofit boards are still painfully lacking in diversity.
Alberta's Promise operates within the Government of Alberta’s Department of Human Services. With over 1,800 business, nonprofit and community partners, they help businesses connect with non-profits across Alberta to make meaningful contributions that benefit children and youth ages 0 to 24.
CanadaHelps is a nonprofit serving Canadian charities and donors. They increase charitable giving across Canada by making it easier to donate and fundraise online. Because CanadHelps is a charity, their fees are a fraction of for-profit alternatives, making donation dollars go further.
The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations is a member-based nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Edmonton, AB. They serve the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Alberta Capital Region.
The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit organizations across Ontario. As a 7,000-strong provincial network, with a volunteer base of 300 sector leaders, ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change.
For over 62 years, Propellus has been supporting volunteers and volunteerism within the communities of Calgary. It strongly believes that volunteering is essential to creating and sustaining healthy, supportive and connected communities.
The Sustainability Network is a national organization that works with environmental nonprofits to make them more effective and efficient. Their mission is to enrich environmental leaders and nonprofit organizations so that they can help us all achieve sustainability.
Founded in 1943, Vantage Point delivers learning opportunities focused on governance, leadership, planning and people engagement for new and seasoned sector leaders, board directors and managers, aimed at advancing not-for-profit leadership.
Women Get On Board is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. They do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom.