Governance provides the opportunity for increasing diversity12
Currently, diverse groups (e.g., persons of different ethnicity, colour, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) are under represented in non-profit organizations. The Human Resources Council for the Nonprofit Sector (2009) reports:
Apart from organizations that provide immigrant and settlement services (or work in other ways on behalf of particular ethnic or cultural groups), there is little evidence that the sector currently reflects the diversity of Canada‘s population. While larger urban centres may be more likely to have employees from culturally diverse backgrounds, the sector needs to work towards a future where inclusiveness is an intentional strategy.
Leaders of NPVS organizations need to take steps to ensure the diversity already present in their communities is reflected in their organizations. Diversity efforts can—and should—be applied across the organization and include boards of directors, staff, and volunteers.
How might governors of a non-profit organization enhance diversity? To start with, they can consider diversity in terms of board competency. The political dimension of governance, for example, lends itself well to the issue of improved diversity. When describing board responsibilities from a political perspective, Chait, Holland, & Taylor (1996) note:
[T]he board accepts as a primary responsibility the need to develop and maintain healthy relationships among major stakeholders and constituencies. The board:
- Respects the integrity of the governance process and the legitimate roles and responsibilities of other stakeholders
- Consults often and communicates directly with key constituencies
- Attempts to minimize conflict and win/lose situations
Key terms in this description—responsibility, integrity, legitimate, consult, communicate, and minimize conflict—are equally relevant to issues of cultural diversity.
The following chart shows how diversity can impact the three domains of governance: fiduciary, strategic, and generative. It also provides questions that a board could use to guide its deliberations on diversity.
|Diversity and Governance|
|Type of Governance||Why should governors consider diversity?||Key Questions|
See Chait, Ryan & Taylor. (2005).
Diverse perspectives on boards
When NPVS boards decide to become more inclusive of diverse perspectives, board and organizational leaders become responsible for creating and fostering a climate of respect and inclusion for these perspectives. Ensuring culturally diverse representation on a board or in an organization is a good first step, but more must be done for successful engagement.
Multicultural teams can be either more productive or less productive than monocultural teams (Adler, 2001). When a diverse team does not value difference, it can under-perform or get mired in misunderstanding or conflict. However, a multicultural team that focuses on developing intercultural competence will be more productive than its monocultural counterpart.
Our leadership changed therefore our culture changed. (Intersections 1, focus group participant) Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. (Edward T. Hall, 1991)
A diverse board may contain individuals with both visible and invisible differences. Diversity is multi-layered (Gardenswartz et al. 2003) and includes:
- Internal dimensions (i.e., age, gender, race, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation)
- External dimensions (i.e., geographic location, income, personal habits, recreational habits, religion, educational background, work experience, appearance, parental status, marital status)
Ethno-cultural diversity—the focus of this guide—includes the learned and shared patterns of beliefs, behaviours, and values maintained by groups of interacting people. Culture affects what we notice, how we make sense of it, and what we decide to do about it. Culture influences what we believe to be the best way to communicate ideas, establish credibility, or build relationships.
A board member‘s culture, for example, influences the way he or she understands the way a board operates. In the following excerpt from the evaluating the board section of Board Development, the highlighted words might be interpreted differently by individuals from different cultures:
- The board represents the interests of the organizations‘ membership.
- Trusting and respectful relationships exist between board members and other individuals within the organization.
- All board members are encouraged to participate in discussions.
- Conflict is dealt with openly, respectfully and effectively.
Similarly, assumptions about the behaviours associated with a board member‘s qualities are also affected by culture:
- Positive and constructive
- Able to work as part of a team
- Future oriented
- Willing to be involved in training and development
Culture influences many things: how interests are defined, how trust is established, what respectful relationships look like, how people participate, and how conflict is managed. For example, is team trust established over time as group works together on tasks or is it established through relationship-building training and activities up front? How much personal information is needed in order for someone to feel they can trust another? When people from different cultures work together, deeply held cultural values and norms, that are usually hidden and have deep effects on behavior and interaction, can hinder smooth communication.
These differences in perspective provide the potential for conflict, but they also provide the potential for enhancing an organization. The unintentional exclusion of people who are different from us can happen if we choose to view the world through one lens without considering other perspectives. Unfortunately, because of the complexity of culture and communication, including diverse perspectives on a team is easier said than done.