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3 Critical Missing Elements to Achieve Board Diversity - Real Actions for Governance Board

I am always thrilled by interesting and challenging projects! Lately, our firm has been tasked with several projects related to planning, enhancing or evaluating Board diversity. Some clients have pursued these projects due to ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance measures) demand, while others want to improve their Board's homogeneity perception. Still, some organizations recognize the benefits of boardroom inclusion and want to enhance it. This article outlines our findings of the three crucial missing pieces that prevent organizations from achieving their Board inclusion objectives.

To create a workplace culture that is welcoming, respectful, and enables everyone to contribute, DE&I efforts now involve the Board level. This applies to both non-profit and for-profit organizations, as the governance Board is responsible for setting the organization's direction, ensuring good governance, and providing oversight.

Achieving Board diversity is often accomplished by having a diverse group of Board members. Common diversity categories include gender, race, ethnicity, age, geography, skills, and board experience. Typically, the board assesses its current composition and sets goals for the future to improve diversity. Indeed, this is a great start, but what is missing?

#1 - Diversity should not be a one-time event to simply check a box, but rather an ongoing effort that is integrated into the organization's strategic plan.

Recommended actions:

  1. Review the organization's strategic plan and determine how Board diversity fits into it. Consider updating the plan if necessary.

  2. Collaborate with the corporation leader to establish a shared vision for inclusion and integrate it into the business strategy.

  3. Create a customized DE&I plan for the organization, including a section specifically addressing how the governance Board will achieve its inclusion goals.

  4. And, don't forget about creating a board inclusion policy.

One of our clients represents members from six surrounding regions. At the recent Annual General Meeting (AGM), several members pointed out that the majority of Board members belong to only two out of six communities and lack appreciation of diverse voices. The Board chair took the message seriously. Subsequently, the Board identified one of the priorities was to “Enhance the Board member representation in xyz regions through the Board recruitment process”. This sounds like a wonderful goal; however, there seems to be a missing piece.

#2 - Board recruitment needs to be a regular pursuit instead of an annual or as-needed activity. Just like with staff recruitment, careful planning should be in place to avoid making Board recruitment an ad-hoc event. This also includes using multiple sourcing channels to market to a wide range of members. The organization's reputation and brand awareness play a crucial role in attracting candidates who are interested in joining the Board.

Recommended actions:

  1. Understand the composition of the members represented and the composition of the Board members; establish a SMART goal of increasing Board representation to reflect the diverse demographics of the members.

  2. Identify areas where representation could be improved and make necessary adjustments. This can include, but not limited to:

    1. Changing meeting times and locations

    2. Actively pursuing outreach to the under-represented regions

    3. Providing training and mentorship to less experienced or new Board members, etc.

  3. Add Board recruitment as an agenda item on a quarterly basis and maintain a Board prospects list. This will shift board recruitment from an annual event to a regular governance process.

I have attended Board candidates’ interviews, and a question that frequently arises is, "Why do you want to become a board member for our organization?" Candidates who are selected usually provide enthusiastic responses that demonstrate how their values and beliefs are aligned with those of the organization’s, as well as their desire to contribute to their communities. There is nothing wrong with the response, but is there something missing?

#3 - To foster a strong and lasting commitment to Board work, it's important to consider the benefits for both parties. Evaluate what potential candidates stand to gain by joining the Board, such as opportunities for developing a specific skillset, expanding their professional network, or enhancing their resume. By understanding these benefits, the Board can identify any missing skillsets, and determine what the Board can offer to attract and retain new Board members.

Recommended actions:

  1. To fulfill its fiduciary duties, the Board evaluates the skills, knowledge, and abilities of its current members to determine areas of expertise.

  2. Identify any gaps in skills that the Board currently lacks. The ideal candidate for the Board is someone who can acquire the desired skills or experience from existing members while also filling in the gaps.

  3. To determine the Board's needs for new members, a Skills Matrix should be used to assess qualifications and screen nominations.

Achieving Board inclusion takes diligent planning and thoughtful execution. The primary focus should be on identifying inclusion enablers, while taking proactive measures to address any possible roadblocks that may arise.


Contact us for board governance and board inclusion consulting!

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