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  • Why There’s Still a Lack of Board Diversity: Boardsource 2017 Report

Why There’s Still a Lack of Board Diversity: Boardsource 2017 Report

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.

2017 September 7

Prime Minister Justin 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.

BoardSource is the leading organization in the U.S. focused on strengthening and supporting nonprofit board leadership. It’s been tracking and analyzing national trends in nonprofit board leadership for more than 20 years. Yesterday, it published a 64-page report, “Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices”.

The report noted that the levels of board diversity have not changed: 84% of board directors are Caucasian and 27% of boards identify as all-white. Minorities and people of colour represent at most 18% of board membership.

This is the case despite the volumes of research illustrating the positive correlation between a diverse board and an effective board. For example, CEOs report that board diversity is important for their nonprofits in:

 
Understanding the changing environment from a broader perspective
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Developing creative new solutions to new problems
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Understanding the client populations served by the organization
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Planning effectively, and
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Increasing fundraising or expanding donor networks.
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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.

The report suggests three ways that a board can strengthen its current recruitment practices to address the lack of diversity.

 
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.
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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.
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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 and positively change the world.
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After all, as poet and novelist Maya Angelou so wisely counsels: "In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength."

To read the BoardSource, Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2017) Report, click here.

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