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From window-dressing to real change: Success stories from Boards on a journey of Diversity & Inclusion

By L. Robin Cardozo and Matt Fullbrook

Executive Summary

Why we embarked on this study

Early in 2021 we published a paper called, “Not-for-Profit Board Diversity & Inclusion: Is it essentially window-dressing?” For that study, we interviewed 26 experienced thought-leaders in not-for-profit board governance, asking about their experience with building diverse boards in the sector. We were deliberate in reaching out to a broad cross-section of community leaders, including members of Canada’s Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. Sifting through the stories and observations, six noteworthy themes emerged:

 Board diversity is unlikely to be effective – unless there’s a parallel commitment to inclusion

 Successful inclusion depends on determined leadership of the Chair

 Board candidates deserve clarity on how they might contribute to the organization

 On-boarding for new board members needs to be re-imagined

 Lived experience can contribute hugely to a diversity of perspectives on the board

 Sound diversity and inclusion principles are aligned with the broad principles of good governance

We were very gratified by the reactions to the report. Leaders and practitioners in not-for-profit board governance commented that the themes resonated, and that the specific advice offered – for board candidates and new members, board chairs, CEOs and others – was practical and effective.

And while that report resonated with many, we kept getting questions at our webinars and workshops:

 Could we talk more about the opportunities and challenges of recruitment for diversity?

 Can we share more specific examples of success?

 Can we share more specific examples of the challenges?

 Would successful organizations be willing to share more practical details about the journey to strengthen board equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism?


Leading Organizations on the EDI-R Journey

Recognizing the validity of these questions, we decided to embark on a second study. This time, we chose to take a different approach – we would talk to several organizations that have had successes in building Board Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (EDI-R). Each of the not-for-profit organizations we spoke with was intentionally on an EDI-R journey, and while none would claim to have achieved all their goals – indeed it’s arguable whether such a claim would be meaningful – each is doing valuable work to advance the agenda.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Board Chair, CEO/Executive Director, and participating board members at each of the boards we interviewed. To a person, the leaders we spoke with were passionate, committed and thoughtful – about the organizations they served, and about the importance of EDI-R. Thank you to the generous participants from:

 Anishnawbe Health Foundation

 Responsible Gambling Council

 Soulpepper Theatre

 Toronto Foundation

 Vancouver Airport Authority

 Women’s College Hospital

We also spoke with four executive search consultants who frequently work with corporate and not-for-profit organizations in recruiting executives and board members. Acknowledging that board diversity is a timely topic in their respective practices, they generously shared their time and expertise with us. Thank you to:

 Nick Chambers, Partner, Boyden Executive Search

 Shawn Cooper, Managing Director, Russell Reynolds

 Jason Murray, President, BIPOC Executive Search

 Sharon Rudy, Practice Lead, Executive & Director Search, Watson Advisors