Board Diversity: How Change Begins

Vicki Rosenberg, formerly of the Council of Michigan Foundations and now of Vicki Rosenberg & Associates recently posted an account of CMF’s diversity efforts and the evolution of the D5 Coalition on BoardSource‘s blog.

To understand how foundation boards can become more diverse and inclusive and why doing so matters, CMF and BoardSource co-hosted focus groups with diverse foundation trustees ranging in age from 35 to 75. Not one of them fit the typical foundation boardroom demographic in Michigan: White (80 percent), male (60 percent), and age 50 or older (66 percent.) Findings are reported in Diversity and Inclusion in the Foundation Boardroom: Voices of Diverse Trustees published by CMF in 2012 as part of its Transforming Michigan Foundations Through Diversity & Inclusion initiative.

What did we learn from these “outliers” about what it takes to build a diverse and inclusive board that adds value to achieving the foundations’ mission and goals?
We learned that

  • change can start with a CEO or trustee who articulates and models a commitment to diversity and inclusion
  • defining and agreeing to the strategic value of diversity and inclusion is essential. For many participants the ultimate benefit is a refocusing of the foundation’s work to equity and changing communities. As one participant stated, “Failure to address issues of equity in foundation governance will eventually lead to irrelevance.”
  • becoming a diverse and inclusive board takes unflagging commitment, training, new policies and practices, recruiting beyond traditional networks, and patience. And, creating safe space for honest and sometimes difficult conversations is essential. Diversity with the expectation of assimilation vs. inclusion perpetuates tokenism, bias, misunderstanding, and frustration.

Read Vicki’s full blog post at BoardSource’s Exceptional Boards blog.


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