3 WAYS NONPROFIT BOARDS CAN MIND THE DIVERSITY GAP

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2018 March 13

CanadaHelps

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:

 
Board diversity provides diverse perspectives in decision making producing better decisions.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Board diversity helps legitimize an organization’s mission and vision.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Board diversity helps build social capital and cohesion among diverse populations.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Board diversity creates a more diverse organization that is more responsive to the community and clients.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Board diversity supports more productive fundraising, marketing and communications outreach initiatives.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.


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.

 
First, it must be intentional about defining what the ideal board composition looks like in terms of diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, experience and expertise. Diversity in board recruitment must rank as one of the top three priorities of the board.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Second, it must be vigilant about finding individuals who will fit such composition through focused and disciplined board recruitment. This means that existing board directors must go beyond their usual personal networks and use nontraditional means of recruitment.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Lastly, it must expressly agree to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the nonprofit’s core organizational values. In doing so, the board expressly articulates how crucial diversity is as it steers the nonprofit to achieve its mission to positively change the world.
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.

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.”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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