Frank Kenny: How to Build a Chamber Board of Directors
When you scan the faces of your board members, what do you see?
How many are men?
How old are they?
Are they mostly of the same race?
When I am prepping for facilitating a strategic planning retreat or board orientation I always ask the CEO, “How well does your chamber board reflect your members and community?”
Most of the time they will say the board is a pretty good reflection of the membership and community.
But, when the board meeting starts, and we go around the room for introductions, what I mostly see is older white men.
That might be okay if your membership and community are comprised of only older white men but that is highly unlikely, if not impossible today.
One of the uncomfortable questions I ask some board members is, “Do you feel the board and chamber adequately reflect your demographic?”
From everyone except older white men, the answer is often no, not really.
And usually, several of the older white men in the room are surprised.
They will look around and point out that there are a few women, 1 or 2 Hispanic, Asian or African Americans, and at least one “under 40.” This confirms to them that the board and chamber are diverse.
What I don’t think they see is that the room is 60% + older white men. Established, successful, locally powerful older white men.
And when the board is healthy and honest, frank discussions can be had. In these cases, it’s not uncommon for the underrepresented board members to explain how uncomfortable it is being the only one that looks like them in the boardroom.
They don’t want to make a fuss about it. They don’t want everyone to be uncomfortable, but they do want the other board members and staff to know that they don’t feel fully included. They feel like outsiders.
So, what is an organization to do about this?
- Perform a diversity audit. Measure the numbers so you have the data you need to have an informed discussion and to make smart business decisions on this topic.
- If diversity/inclusion is one of your organization’s core values, make sure it is in your Values Statement.
- If your organization knows it isn’t as inclusive as it should be, make getting there part of your Strategic Plan.
- If you don’t have term limits for your board members, maybe now is the time to implement them.
- Encourage your nominating committee to recruit for skills from people who happen to be underrepresented on your board. Don’t recruit tokens, recruit talent.
- Encourage your board and members to submit names of people who are qualified to be on your board. If you only recruit those in your sphere, you will get what you have always gotten.
- Don’t just rely on underrepresented people to raise their hand to say they want to serve on the board. You must proactively recruit them to make your board representative of your members and community.
When you have a diverse and inclusive organization, you not only have the potential to attract and retain more members from underrepresented communities, you get the benefit of diverse world views and ideas.
It’s simply smart business to recruit a board that reflects the diversity in your community and membership.