Boards Still Lagging In DEI, Survey Shows

Many organizations have intentions to diversify their boards but most have not had success or have even started trying and nonprofit leadership and upper management remains mostly White, according to a report by a Connecticut foundation.

The 13-page report, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Landscape of the Valley, by the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) surveyed 32 stakeholders, representing 28 different nonprofits, community groups, and school districts. Of the respondents, 23 were female, nine were male; 23 were White, seven were Black, and two unidentified.

VCF, based in Derby, Conn., outside New Haven, plans to use the data “as a starting point for future board discussion” about where its work on DEI issues should be directed, what priorities to fund, and where to provide “capacity building assistance.”

Building a DEI awareness and education plan for the board, staff and nonprofits is among the goals within VCF’s five-year strategic plan (2019-2023). VCF was established in 2004 and distributes almost $2 million in grants each year to local nonprofits.

“While direct service staff are often from diverse races and backgrounds, higher-level management positions tend to be primarily filled by White people,” according to the report. Some respondents recommended changing bylaws to require more diversity and overhaul the board’s racial make-up without waiting for term limits to end. Other respondents encourage bringing on and including board members of color to challenge the status quo of the organization.

Questions asked of respondents included:

  • Does your organization think about DEI in its staff? Leadership? Board?
  • Do any of your organization’s programs address DEI in the community?
  • Have you altered any of your programs to make them more diverse/inclusive?
  • Do you see any gaps in the community or among your clients that you feel need to be filled, if not by your nonprofit then through another organization or agency?
  • What do you think you and/or the Valley community is doing well when it comes to DEI?

Findings fell into five categories:

  • Internal DEI conversations: Nonprofits and school districts are having these conversations internally although the amount of action being taken varies;
  • Diversity: There is much work to be done in the Valley region when it comes to diversifying leadership across all sectors. Nonprofits need to improve the diversity of the clientele they support.
  • Barriers to equity: Barriers to success that communities of color in the Valley face are the results of systemic racism, including but not limited to food insecurity, and a lack of transportation, childcare, and affordable housing.
  • Need for conversation: All respondents looking to enact change agreed that conversations among all stakeholders needed to happen.
  • Perceptions of the Valley and Valley Council for Health and Human Services (VCHHS): VCHHS and its extended partners are a collaborative group who work together to fill gaps where they find them and have begun to form committees to help discuss additional challenges, but he work being done for racial equity is sometimes viewed as too “White-led” and some are concerned about the lack of access both physical and abstract to the Valley.