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Updated: April 4, 2022 Outside the Box

Make your boards more diverse, now!

A picture of Bonnie J. Walker Image | Courtesy of Bonnie J. Walker Bonnie J. Walker
Check out Bonnie J. Walker's other Outside the Box columns, through the links at the bottom of this page.
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The impact board members make, at the highest-level governing body of an organization, is critical to what happens in any organization.

In addition to varied business expertise, financial support, and community connections to elevate the organizational mission, a board member’s culture and life experiences provide a network or bond to the community of people they represent racially. This occurs because of shared, or some overlap of lived experience based on identity.

Board members of color are critical to supporting diverse constituents in historically marginalized networks. Additionally, a racially diverse board can better navigate having difficult conversations, addressing concerns in governance actions that may uniquely or disproportionately affect people of color, who have specific needs.

As businesses and schools diversify, it becomes even more imperative boards reflect that diversity. Boards benefit from a variety of perspectives. Having access to these various viewpoints is valuable when considering important decisions, including about finances, employee salaries and departmental structures, training, curriculum in classrooms, policies, and practices.

It's time for board members to ask difficult and important questions:

• How do we center all community members in every decision that we make? Are we welcoming to all constituents? Do we market to, and communicate well with, all prospective community members?

• How are all community members affected by our current policies and practices and new policies and practices being implemented? Are certain populations within the community unfairly impacted?

A progressive board has members who have a range of experiences to assist in examining new opportunities, calculating risks, and predicting varied and multi-pronged challenges. More diverse boards are more likely to prioritize diversity and to nominate more racially diverse leaders.

Having multiple views from different board members on the potential results or consequences of an action can result in a more thorough decision-making process and better problem-solving.

Here are three tips for what boards should do proactively to diversify:

1. Review and revise recruitment procedures, with introspection to challenging questions to the status quo:

• To what extent do directors rely on personal connections to identify director candidates? What is the demographic composition of directors’ professional and social networks, who can be consulted to access a more diverse pool of candidates?

• What factors are used to rule candidates out? How can decision-making processes be formalized?

• What experiences are necessary prerequisites for board membership?

• What processes and activities can be used to build relationships between new and existing directors?

2. Be accountable. When a board position needs to be filled, a diverse pool of candidates is considered.

3. Prioritize mentoring and sponsorship. Formal mentoring and sponsorship can be useful in offering valuable connections.

An excellent resource, posted on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, is a research paper, Addressing the Challenge of Board Racial Diversity, by Cydney Posner, Cooley LLP. The paper refers to the Williams survey, conducted with a goal of capturing the experiences of seasoned Black directors. The survey offers 10 key takeaways to help increase racial diversity on boards.

Businesses are facing greater, more complex and dynamic issues; diversity on their boards is vital as they navigate these new challenges. Being a model of diversity at the highest-level is responsible, and a conscientious reflection of the constituents being served.

Bonnie J. Walker is the director of equity and inclusion at Worcester Academy. Contact her at

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