Although racial diversity has become prominent in many areas of the nonprofit sector, one place where it still is lacking is in the boardroom.
At a meeting of foundation CEOs, trustees and senior executives in 2007, titled “Assessment to Action: Creating Change” and sponsored by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), panelists and participants in one session discussed in a conversation about structural racism.
The discussion unearthed several themes:
- Racial diversity adds value. When boards are inclusive, diversity makes for richer and more productive conversations and creates more democratic institutions.
- Diversity among people of color is recognized. Too often people of color are recruited to boards to represent “their people” and not for their expertise beyond racial issues. One participant pointed out that such a limit represents narrow thinking that harms everyone.
- Tokenism is unproductive. Analysis of a survey by the CEP of 550 trustees from 53 foundations found that people of color who are members of foundation boards with two or fewer people of color rate the equality of opportunity lower than do whites. Inviting one person of color at a time does not make for a healthy conversation.
- Change is difficult. Adding racial diversity to a board requires a commitment from current board members to understand their own values and those of the other members and to change the way they do business. One panelist said grants are made to organizations that “look like us.”