“Diverse Board: Moving Beyond Rhetoric” Panel – Recap

On Tuesday June 21, NPCC and Philanthropy New York held a joint panel on “Diverse Boards: Moving Beyond Rhetoric.” This panel delved deeper into the diversity and inclusion conversation that was featured during NPCC’s Annual Meeting this past March. The goals of this panel was to move beyond the rhetoric and the understanding that diversity and inclusion is important for a board, and for the institution at large, and engage the key stakeholders in tangible methods and practices on how to actually build inclusive and diverse practices into their organizations.

This panel was moderated by Tanya Odom, featured opening conversation between NPCC’s President, Sharon Stapel, and Philanthropy New York’s President, Ronna Brown, and a panel discussion with Kimberly Harris of America Needs You and Jamie Mayer, a board member of the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Sharon and Ronna both highlighted the absolute importance of diversity and inclusion in having healthy, vibrant mission-strong organizations within the entire nonprofit sector and acknowledged that everyone in the room understands this. Sharon brought up the fact that diversity and inclusion is one of NPCC’s Eight Areas of Excellence, and has been an area of underperformance, so it is one of NPCC’s goals to strengthen nonprofit management in this area. Key takeaways from their opening discussion were that (1) truly building inclusive and diverse practices requires us to be courageous and take risks that put us outside of our comfort zone - i.e. looking outside your normal networks - because our networks tend to be homogeneous - and talk to people you don’t know; (2) we need to build pipelines and engagement strategies to connect community to leadership and boards so that we don’t just appoint someone to fill a void, and then not further engage them or bring them into the work; and finally (3) building diversity and inclusion is never something that can just be “finished.” As Ronna Brown noted, “it is something that your board will always think about.”

Tanya Odom noted that this work requires honesty and courage because there will be disruption to your normal ways of doing business and bringing in change, which can be scary, but is very necessary. She noted that self-reflection by a board is key to ensuring that we bring in people intentionally and support them continuously.

She also called out the implied biases that pervade this work such as talking about needing “qualified” candidates only when recruiting diverse candidates, or assuming that women and people of color cannot also be high net worth or are considered not to have enough “gravitas” and also the conflation of confidence with competence - assuming someone’s presentation is all that they are.

The opening conversation then concluded with some Q/A from the audience and then the audience was broken up into small groups to share their successes and their mistakes regarding board diversity and inclusion which then they would bring back to the group at large. Some of the comments that were brought up highlighted the need to also consider class when we think about diversity, because of power imbalances, and the root causes of inequity; the need to have guidance or education for boards around this issue, and challenges with building intentional and effective pipelines to leadership.

The second half of the event featured a moderated panel with Kim Harris of America Needs You and Jamie Mayer of the Nathan Cummings Foundation discussing their own successes and mistakes.

Kim Harris noted that the success of her organization depended on its diversity - having a diversity of identity, skills, profession, and thought that intersects leads to a more thoughtful, strategic, inclusive organization. Jamie Mayer discussed the in-depth and intentional education that her board underwent in order to fully embrace principles of diversity and inclusion and to ensure that the entire organization - from board to program staff reflect those values.

Jamie further noted that in family foundations, where diversity may be perceived as harder to achieve because it is the family itself that typically comprises the board, that the use of independent trustees (or independent board members) is a way to broaden networks and the cadre of trusted resources, allies as well as staff can broaden organizational perspective and bring forth diversity and inclusion. She also echoed Tanya Odom’s comment about implied bias - there is a clear need to call out instances of bias, and explicitly find diversity where andh ow you can.

Kim Harris highlighted four steps that her organization used to build diversity: (1) defining diversity; (2) creating a wish-list of board members; (3) establishing a vetting process that includes all stakeholders; and (4) ensuring continued engagement of the board with the organization’s mission. She stated that a way to ensure that you don’t engage in tokenism is to speak to the WHOLE person to get to the core of who they are and what they can bring to the organization.

The panel closed with final insights that included reiterating that building diversity is a constant process over an organization’s lifetime.

Further resources include:
NPCC's Workshops & Events
Philanthropy New York Calendar of Events