for boards:

3. Working More Effectively

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
Fiduciary Governance
  • Board monitors and approves
  • Board oversees business operations (e.g., financial controls)
  • Board oversees regulatory compliance
  • Board oversees legal issues (e.g. contracts)
  • To develop better working relationships with the broader community
  • To reduce the risk of discriminatory practices
  • To provide an alternative means for procuring human resources, supplies, and services
  • To comply with the regulatory environment
  • What barriers prevent diverse groups from participating in our organization?
  • Are we discriminating against certain groups?
  • What is the cost of ignoring diversity in our organization?
  • Can we secure or retain valuableresources (e.g., human, financial, etc.) by being more diverse?
Strategic Governance
  • Board is forward-looking and outcomes oriented
  • Together, board and management discover strategic priorities and drivers
  • Board structure reflects organization’s strategic priorities
  • Board values flexibility Board and staff discuss strategic data from multiple sources
  • Community demographics are changing so the way anorganization carries out its mission must change.
  • The community that an organization serves in the future will be significantly different than it is today.
  • Excluding diverse groups makes an organization less sustainable.
  • Crafting strategy requires a diversity of perspectives.
  • Building the relationships necessary for future success has to address the diversity in a community.
  • In 25 years, who will our organization serve?
  • What diversity-related trends affect our mission?
  • In the future, will our services be relevant to segments of the community that do not speak English?
  • How do internal processes need to change to accommodate diverse populations?
  • Why are so few new immigrants involved with the non-profit sector?
Generative Governance
  • Board engages in reflective learning
  • Board is seen as a source of leadership
  • Board is able to discern problems
  • Board tries to make sense of the issue
  • Board frames problems and identifies key questions
  • To be meaningful in a changing, more-diverse community, non-profit organizations need to develop relationships and capacities to work with diversity.
  • In the future, resources (e.g. human, financial, etc.) will come from diverse elements in the community.
  • By not engaging with increasingly diverse populations, an organization will become less and less relevant.
  • Is diversity important to our organization? Why or why not?
  • What steps can we take as a board to understand the internal barriers to diverse membership and leadership?
  • How is diversity to be understood in our community now and 25 years from now?
  • What opportunities are we missing because we do not actively engage diverse groups?

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:

  • Personality
  • 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.