Board Diversity — Who’s at the Table?

Through yesterday’s launch of the #ShareTheMicNow campaign, we were inspired to share our platform with a leader of color. We reached out to Deborah Aubert Thomas, President and CEO of Philanthropy Ohio, to share about board diversity.

We’re grateful for Philanthropy Ohio’s work as we continue to learn and implement best practices surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Thank you, Deborah, for your friendship and partnership.

—        Mollard Consulting

It’s hard to have a conversation these days about diversity without also talking about inclusion and equity.

When it comes to board diversity, we often speak about diversity and recruitment. What’s the magic number? That depends on the size of your board, but best practices suggest you want to at least have three or more board members of color. Having just one person of color can position that person to represent an entire constituency. Having three or more provides for different opinions and experiences and avoids tokenism.

Inclusion speaks to retention, the experience of diverse board members, and the culture of the board. No one wants to be at a table where their voice is not heard or appreciated. You want to avoid group think and allow space for authentic conversations with differing opinions. The culture of your board can reflect not just the people but the bold space for honest dialogue and informed decisions.

And finally, equity speaks to awareness and the application of that awareness on issues — starting with racial equity. Why start with racial equity? Because if you can tackle having those difficult conversations, you can tackle any other issue brought to the table.

At Philanthropy Ohio, we educate our members — who are funders across the state — on best practices. In addition to leading policy work with and on behalf of our members, we provide professional development and learning opportunities for their staff that also extends to their boards. The challenges we hear include how to get leadership at the board level to engage in uncomfortable conversations. But we encourage folks to lean in to uncomfortable discussions that can benefit their organizations, their communities, and their personal and professional lives.

One recent example is our Putting Racism on the Table series where we convened in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus in two cohorts — one for staff and one for CEOs with board members and donors. We asked some board members and donor participants to reflect on their experiences in our Winter 2019 Philanthropy Review Newsletter (pages 4-5).

Philanthropy Ohio has a long history of discussing diversity and inclusion with our members. Over the last five years, we’ve included learning about equity — promoting justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as their distribution of resources. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the underlying or root causes of outcome disparities within our society.

Philanthropy Ohio’s board adopted a Diversity Statement in 2016 that outlines definitions for diversity, equity, and inclusion (because language is important) and provides guiding strategies and tactics for reaching Diversity, Equity & Inclusion goals. In 2019, the board approved a Board Diversity Statement, which intentionality resulted in a diverse slate of new board members.

We are seeing more and more of our members do the internal work with their boards and staff, but also extending the work to their grant and community partners. Members are bringing racial equity trainings to their communities and, in some cases, even requiring attendance at the trainings as a part of grant funding. It’s bold, it’s courageous, and it’s an imperative that can only benefit the communities we serve.

Article by: Deborah Aubert Thomas, President and CEO, Philanthropy Ohio

2020-06-11T23:36:20+00:00