The experts in
not for profit

The importance of not for profit board diversity

Group of different nationalities smiling at the camera

Diversity within the Australian workplace featured in the news recently, and it made us think about the non-profit sector.

Not for profits tend to have wider diversity within their workforce when compared to some commercial industries… as do NFP organisation boards.

Corporate boards have earnt the moniker ‘pale, male and stale’, being historically made up entirely of middle-aged, white men from professional business or legal backgrounds, but we know this is not the case within the NFP world.

We recognise that there is already a great deal of diversity within not for profit boards… but it is still worth taking the time to determine whether there are opportunities for further development.

You want to make sure that you have a truly inclusive and representative group making decisions and leading your NFP towards your goals.

Focused woman writing on a sticky paper placed on the white board

What is diversity?

A simple definition of diversity is ‘the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.’ When this is applied to a board, it means to have people from a broad range of different backgrounds. Different ethnicities and cultures, ages, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, geographic location, disability and even languages.

Ideally, a board would consist of people from a wide variety of societal groups, and while it would be impressive to have this occur naturally, we understand that there are challenges. It can be difficult to attract individuals who represent every aspect of your organisation’s community, but it’s all about finding balance. In the past, many groups have been left out of the boardroom environment, but thankfully today there is far greater effort to include a greater range of voices at the table.

Business team having a meeting

When looking at your own NFP board, there are a number of considerations to take into account:

  • What is the purpose of your organisation?
  • What area or sector of society do you operate within?
  • Who and where are the people or groups that you support or serve?

It’s crucial that your organisation’s board includes representatives from the specific audience you work with. There must be that connection to make sure that your governing body can carry out its role.

Board members need to understand the point of view of their most important stakeholders in order to make appropriate decisions, ensure you remain connected to your community and deliver on your mission.

Smiling diverse multiracial office employees sitting at desk

Why should you have a diverse board?

One of the most significant reasons you should have a diverse board is to expand your talent pool. The more variety you have within your board members, the greater range of experiences and skills you can tap into. Everyone brings with them something unique, and that will add to the richness of knowledge within your board.

Not only will you expand the skills within the board, but you will also increase the extended network you can access. If everyone on your board knows each other or comes from the same city or has a similar background then your network is limited… greater diversity means more opportunities outside the boardroom.

The Institute for Community Directors Australia says,

“Having a diverse board can also make good business sense, bringing about better organisational performance – both financial and non-financial. Diversity makes for better governance – and better governance inevitably means better results.”

Improving diversity

To start moving towards a more diverse and inclusive not for profit board, you might need to review some of your internal processes. Here are some points to consider when you are assessing the next steps:

Diversity People Talk International Conference Partnership
  • Language – how do you support non-English speakers? Do you have the option of translation services for official documentation? In a meeting, could an interpreter be employed?
  • Disability – where are you located? Do you have disability access? In a meeting, do you have allocated time for members to speak, understanding that someone with a disability might not be able to interject or speak quickly?
  • Age – when do you hold your meetings? Are they at appropriate times for people of all ages? Consider that people have a range of responsibilities, be it work, study or caring for young children or older family members.
  • Location – are you close to public transport? Can people easily get to your meetings if they do not drive? Can you accommodate interstate or regional travellers? Now that 2020 has introduced the world to the joy of online meetings, this is an option to avoid the problem of location, but reinforces the importance of language and accessibility.

All of these points can help improve the comfort of board members from diverse backgrounds and may make your board a more enjoyable place for existing members, too. We encourage you to embrace diversity and make the not for profit space even more welcoming.

There are many online resources you can use to further your action on diversity. Visit these websites for more details.

The Inclusive Organization
Diversity Council Australia
Diversity Inclusion
Australian HR Institute

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