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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Boardroom diversity well worth the work

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What is the purpose of diversity at the boardroom level and how can companies and organizations achieve it?

Indiana Humanities uses diversity to achieve its mission, which is to connect people, open minds, and enrich lives by creating and facilitating programs that encourage Hoosiers to think, read and talk.

Recently, seven new members joined the nonprofit group’s Board of Directors, including two African-Americans: the honorable Maria Granger and Timothy Robinson.

“We select people from around Indiana because we’re a state-wide organization,” said Terry Anker, chairman of the Board of Directors for Indiana Humanities. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve recruited some younger people or folks early in their careers, so we’ve got some age diversity there as well. We also have more people from the nonprofit sector.”

Historically, humanity organizations had a strict policy of recruiting academic leaders, but they have worked hard to acquire and retain a diverse membership. This variety of ideas and voices has yielded positive results, Anker said.

Many companies and organizations aren’t yet this multifarious in their top leadership, but recognize it as a goal.

“Of our participating nonprofit organizations more than a third listed board diversity as one of their top needs,” said Linda Kirby, president and CEO of Leadership Indianapolis. They host an annual event called “Get On Board,” a one-stop-shop for individuals looking for a board service opportunity within local nonprofits. “We are pleased to present this event connecting civic leaders to organizations looking for board members.”

The desire for increased board diversity does not surprise Roberto Curci, associate dean of the college of business at Butler University. While businesses and organizations have come a long way to include people of various races, ages and professional levels, obstacles remain.

“To bring diversity, somebody at the board level has to take that initiative seriously and work hard to accomplish those goals,” said Curci.

Complicating the search for true diversity is that some boards may seek a minority member as mere window dressing, not necessarily valuing the person’s opinions and insights.

On the flip side of the coin, the minority board member for his or her part should possess a real desire to serve and have an authentic passion for the board’s mission, Curci said.

“Serving is really a fantastic thing because in your career, you tend to be around people like you,” commented Anker. “In this space, you end up sitting around the table with people who are living in different worlds, who have different lives who look at the world from a different perspective of career and family. I think that is wonderfully enriching.”

To keep momentum strong, Curci said people should be trailblazers and work to represent their differences. In this way, they will garner future opportunities for themselves and others like them.

“You’ve got to do your part to build trust. Sometimes there’s a lack of understanding or people will just generalize,” said Curci. “You can work to change their minds and defy stereotypes.”

If one has done all they can to help their fellow board members see their perspective and institutional change does not occur, Curci suggests they step down.

Some may argue that in today’s global society, if a board is predominantly white, or predominantly male, for example, diversity is not a top priority. Curci recommends one take perceived discrimination on a case-by-case basis. “Take a youth organization. You don’t need certain types of people on the board. You’ve got to understand the base you are trying to serve,” said Curci.

While both the corporate and nonprofit arenas have advanced in the area of diversity, Curci said the public sector must do more to reflect the community.

For his part, Indiana Humanities’ Anker says he’s excited for change as the board actively prepares for Indiana’s bicentennial celebration.

Looking for board service?

Leadership Indianapolis is hosting “Get on Board” for qualified, passionate individuals looking to make a difference in the community. Register now! For more information, visit leadershipindianapolis.com.

  • What: Get on Board
  • Date: Oct. 6
  • Time: 4 – 6:30 p.m.
  • Location: Indianapolis Children’s Museum
  • Cost: Free
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