Benefits of a diverse board include greater effectiveness, improved stakeholder relationships and fresh perspectives on decision-making.
Toronto — Even in small amounts, leadership diversity contributes meaningfully to the performance of non-profit boards, according to the report Leadership Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector: Baby Steps, Big Strides, and Bold Stances.
The report, based on three surveys of more than 420 organizations, finds a diverse board contributes to overall board effectiveness by safeguarding and fulfilling the mission of the organization and enhancing fiduciary oversight. Board diversity also improves stakeholder relationships, increases the organization’s responsiveness to the community and their clients, and brings fresh perspectives to decision-making. The more diverse a board, the more likely it is to report these benefits.
“There’s definitely strength in numbers,” says report author Chris Fredette, assistant professor at Carleton University. “Once a critical mass of 30 per cent leadership diversity is reached, we see an increase in the benefits of diversity experienced by the organization. What’s more, we found no downside. Diversity does not lead to more conflict or distrust between board members as some have suggested it might.”
Despite the overwhelming advantages of leadership diversity, the research found that visible minorities continue to be underrepresented in non-profit boards in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). While visible minorities make up 40 per cent of the GTA’s population, of the 4,254 board positions examined only 15.6 per cent are held by visible minorities.
“Progress is slow, but there are signs of encouragement,” says Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree and co-chair of DiverseCity. “The majority of boards we surveyed had at least one visible minority board member. However, as the research indicates, one is not enough.”
The report includes a number of recommendations for organizations that wish to strengthen their board, including understanding and communicating the benefits of leadership diversity and aligning diversity efforts to the organization’s mission and mandate.
“For organizations with a genuine interest in making progress, diversity must become a strategic imperative,” says John Tory, chair of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance and co-chair of DiverseCity. “Issues of diversity need to be embedded into the decisions, discussions, and activities of boards in much the same way, and with as much heft, as these same boards give to financial considerations.”