I’m learning firsthand the win-win of having women and minorities on boards.
For the longest time, a “board” filled my mind with images of older white men wearing suits and sitting around a table making decisions.
Unfortunately, the data back up my mental images. This 2016 study by the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte shows that 3.8 percent of Fortune 500 board seats are held by minority women, compared to 69.2 percent by white men. This should be an urgent call for greater diversity in the boardroom.
I couldn’t see myself in that role — until an event on diversifying boards at Impact Hub in Seattle opened my eyes. In January, I sat in on my first board meeting at Powerful Voices, a Seattle nonprofit that creates brave spaces with girls of color to take charge of their own power as leaders, igniting their abilities to confidently express themselves. I heard about the organization at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation event and applied, was screened, interviewed and invited to join. Since, I’ve gained a strong network and learned leadership, budget planning and long-term strategy. As a Seattle newcomer, becoming a board member also gave me a sense of belonging. My voice was recognized and my ideas were valued. I was also able to land a job.
To encourage others to apply, I am going to shake up some myths around board work.
You don’t need deep pockets. While corporate boards offer compensation, many nonprofits don’t. Find a board you believe in and negotiate your contribution, monetary or not. A good board will value your thoughts and ideas, which in turn can benefit their cause.
You don’t need to be a great fit. It isn’t imperative that you get along perfectly with others on the board. In fact, I would argue that the best boards are made up of people who challenge each other to think and act differently. What you do need is passion, commitment and an awareness of your capabilities.
You do need to break up groupthink. As long as we see the same people on the same boards, things will remain the same. Greater representation is important to uncover new leaders.
Boards can take steps to open the corridors of power themselves. For one, by developing a holistic and inclusive way of recruiting. A word-of-mouth approach will only further discrimination.
Boards also have to challenge tokenism. Are they driven by the optics of diversity or committed to a greater goal of meaningful change?
Finally, boards should talk about volunteer privilege. If they only reach out to those with time and money, the candidate pool becomes very shallow.
We can all benefit from more diverse boards. They create leaders, and enhance the lives of the people they serve and the people who learn from being on them.