More than ever, boards are recognizing that DEI not only contributes to organizational performance, but also promotes better decision-making, prevents blind spots in board deliberations, and gives them access to more resources and to reach a wider community. Boards of directors play a critical role in guiding their companies through business and social change in ways that promote sustainability, performance and value.
Successful boards function at their full potential when they harness a wide range of diversity by drawing on the expertise of people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, thoughts, work and other fields, such as professional experience. An exceptional board is a high-performing team with a common goal of advancing the work of the organization toward an important vision. Fostering a space that values the experiences of a diverse group and applies them to the oversight of social impact organizations is important for addressing social challenges.
Here are five steps boards can take to better influence and lead their companies strategically and systemically in their DEI initiatives.
1. Develop a DEI statement and center it in your business strategy
Don’t assume that everyone understands DEI or operates from the same perspective. Remember that diversity, equity and inclusion are three distinct concepts, but they are often misinterpreted or used interchangeably. A DEI statement puts everyone on the same page. Make your DEI statement part of your governance structure (so you can make more informed decisions and hold each other accountable) and a critical ingredient in designing and executing your business strategy.
Having a DEI statement not only expresses a commitment, but also serves as a tool for the nominating committee when considering and recruiting new board members. Post this statement on your website so that potential board members are clear about your commitment and position.
2. Commit to diversifying your board
Optics matter. Representation matters. When a potential board member sees no one else like them, it indicates that their values and needs are not important and that the organization is not serious about DEI. If the board is not both diverse and inclusive, it lacks credibility with management and likely with staff, clients, donors, partners and other stakeholders. Diversifying your board should be an intentional and ongoing process. This should include recruiting for attributes that you do not currently have (and will need in the future depending on your organization’s direction) and that are representative of the communities you serve and are in .
Reassess your board’s recruiting goals and selection criteria. Start by looking at the visible demographics of your board (particularly across racial and gender lines, as they make up a significant portion of the workforce and are the most underrepresented on boards. of today’s businesses and nonprofits). Also expand your candidate pool to include cognitive diversity – different points of view and perspectives, experiences and ways of working – as well as diversity of generations, personalities and communication styles and candidates who are not part of your industry. and your sector. Some skills and experiences are transferable and can add tremendous value to any board. By bringing together a Board of Directors that reflects a wide range of diverse perspectives and lived experiences, your company benefits from strong discussions, which lead to more innovative solutions that address the complex issues facing the organization and its communities.
3. Adopt an equity mindset
An equity mindset requires a board to be aware of systemic inequities and committed to promoting equity in what the organization does. Understanding how these inequalities affect both corporate communities and society as a whole helps a board increase the organization’s impact and contribution to the public.
To advance equity, the board must have an equity mindset in all of its work. This includes allocating resources, implementing oversight to investigate issues that impact marginalized and underrepresented groups, and ensuring the board itself is diverse.
4. Make yourself comfortable by being uncomfortable
This work is hard; it can be controversial, and it’s definitely uncomfortable. But if you want to make substantial and lasting change in your organization, you have to commit to the process. And that means feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable – having difficult conversations, dealing with resistance, developing new skills and influencing others to change their state of mind. mind, attitudes and behaviors. The benefits of creating a more diverse, fair, and inclusive board of directors can bring long-term benefits to the success of your organization, so you need to be prepared to lean into the growing pains and challenges that come with change. .
5. Accept responsibility
Boards of directors play a vital role in creating an organization that prioritizes, supports and invests in diversity, equity and inclusion. The board sets the tone for the whole organization; whatever he makes a priority will spill over to the rest of the organization. As board members, hold each other accountable for adopting and living the values of DEI, make DEI a frequent item on the agenda of board meetings, integrate DEI into your governance structure and hold the CEO/President accountable for ensuring DEI is implemented across the organization.
Written by Dr. Shirley Davis.
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