Editor’s Note: Here, Vu Le revisits the problem of the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards with some suggestions about how to think about and address the problem. He also provides a few vivid metaphors for the non-diverse board that might help motivate you to move things along, if necessary, on your own board. (Think of your board as a 200-lb. seitan pig.) For more on this, please see our article here and our webinar here.
Hi, everyone. Apologies in advance for the grumpiness of this post. In addition to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose, every week brings some sort of fresh horror from this administration. The president’s decision to end DACA is the latest injustice we as a sector and as a society must add to our growing list of injustices to fight. 800,000 Dreamers (who had no choice in being brought into this country) are in limbo, not to mention the lives of millions of their families. Please read this article written by a Dreamer and call your elected officials. The voices of people in support of ending DACA are loud, so we must be louder.
Meanwhile, we have some other challenges in the sector we have to deal with. BoardSource just released its report on board diversity, and the statistics are frustrating, disappointing, and somewhat anger-inducing (like this season’s Game of Thrones—seriously, Arya and Sansa?!) Here are a few highlights from the survey of 1378 nonprofit executives and 381 board chairs, though I highly recommend you read the full report.
- 27 percent of all orgs that responded have zero people of color on their board.
- 65 percent of executives and 41 percent of board chairs report that they are dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity.
- Things haven’t changed in over two decades. According to BoardSource, “Past BoardSource studies found that boards were 86 percent white in 1994, 91 percent white in 2004, 86 percent white in 2007, 84 percent white in 2010, and 82 percent white in 2012.” In 2015, it was 89 percent; 2016, 84 percent. (We’ll talk about the equally dismal ED/CEO diversity another time).
- 79 percent of EDs/CEOs say that expanding racial and ethnic diversity is important or very important to advancing mission.
HOWEVER, despite these mostly horrifying numbers, there are still even more horrifying numbers:
- Only 24 percent of executives and 25 percent of board chairs say demographics are a high priority for board recruitment.
- Only 21 percent of executives and 23 percent of chairs report “change or strengthen recruitment practices,” when asked what they needed to do to improve their boards. Among all-white boards, only 21 percent of executives indicated it as a top-three priority.
- About 25 percent of respondents indicate that they are somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with their board’s racial or ethnic diversity while simultaneously indicating that demographics is not a high priority in board recruitment. Which is ridiculous and incomprehensible, like the mission beyond the Wall on this season’s Game of Thrones.
OK, we need to have a serious talk. The lack of diversity on boards is no longer just annoying. It is a critical issue. Because I am grumpy, let me put it this way: If your board is not representative of the community you claim to serve, then you are furthering the injustice you seek to fight.
This goes for foundations too.
I know it sound