Board Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Is your board diverse?
According to Leading with Intent: National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, a report authored and published by BoardSource, Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.
Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics – particularly racial and ethnic diversity – boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices. Nearly a fifth of all chief executives report they are not prioritizing demographics in their board recruitment strategy, despite being dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity.
Consider these statistics from the report:
  • 90% of chief executives are white
  • 84% of board members are white
  • 27% of boards are all white
A board’s composition impacts how it leads. Who serves on a board impacts how it functions and the decisions it makes. A board that is homogeneous in any ways risks having blind spots that negatively impact its ability to make the best decisions and plans for the organization.
The blind spots created by a lack of racial and ethnic diversity are particularly concerning, because they may result in strategies and plans that ineffectively address societal challenges and inequities, or even reinforce them. Chief executives report that diversity is important or very important when it comes to:
  • Understanding the changing environment from a broader perspective (89%)
  • Developing creative new solutions to new problems (84%)
  • Understanding the client populations served by the organization (82%)
  • Planning effectively (77%)
  • Reputation of the organization (80%)
  • Reach of the organization (72%)
Sixty-five percent (65%) of chief executives report being somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the level of ethnic and racial diversity on their boards, while 41% of board chairs express the same concern. This may be an indicator that chief executives are more in touch with how a lack of diversity affects the organization and/or an indicator that boards lack understanding about the importance of this issue. Most disturbingly, research indicates that only a quarter of all chief executives and board chairs indicate that demographics are a high priority in board recruitment.
The research indicates it is critical to educate boards about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion – and how to tackle it effectively. Effective strategies include:
  • Engaging in board training and conversation that tackles the issue head-on, with full recognition of the current reality and desired future for the organization.
  • Ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion are articulated as part of the organization’s shared values. Clearly articulated values on diversity are a signal that the board has thought through what diversity means to the organization and why it matters.
  • Prioritizing diversity in board recruitment – from a place of understanding and authenticity.
  • Developing policies that support diversification, such as broader recruitment beyond the board’s immediate circle of influence and blind vetting of board candidates.


We would like to engage in a community-wide conversation about this issue. We’d love to hear from you about what’s working and not in your organization, and your experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts with your board and in our community. Email me