Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Diversity: Real and Imagined

I think that there are two senses of diversity.

The first is when you have some idealized group of people who visually can reflect all sorts of different visible easily identifiable ethnic groups. I’m thinking of the advertisements where the group of friends with one Asian, one Caucasian, one African-American, etc all sit down for the football game drinking all of their favorite domestic beer. This is also reflected in the children’s shows I grew up with in the 80s and 90s where each friend group has someone in a wheelchair.

I think that is a superficial diversity that might be hard to attain unless you’re casting a bunch of actors. Realistically, the diversity you have will be more a function of your mission, your location, and the community that you serve. I think that on some level the people who will look to work for your organization may be self-selecting as a group depending on these variables. I think the diversity you would want on your board is a diversity of skills in terms of finance and operations and program management and development potential.

For me, any diversity brought on by having a group of people with different cultural backgrounds would be secondary, but not unimportant. Maybe I say that because I am part of the leading edge of the millennial generation, maybe we take diversity for granted. This is not board related, but looking around the room when our organization meets is a rainbow of colors and ages, with a nice gender mix. Again, I think part of this may be self-selecting

The problem though is if you say that you are selecting for some “skill” is that you have the possibility of falling into a discriminatory practice known as disparate impact, though I am uncertain of how the civil rights act of 1964 applies to volunteer board members. With disparate impact, if you set bars that discriminatory even unintentionally, you could be in trouble. Even outside legal considerations, I have a feeling that you want to make sure that you don’t create the situation where your board is just a bunch of old white guys, no matter what your mission.
I’m a little touchy-feely. so I want to have all stakeholders have a voice in the organization. I think that it could help the running of the organization for all the stakeholders, but also help create buy-in from the people who depend on your services and make them potential advocates instead of just passive recipients of your service. That might lead to the place where you have a board where there are stakeholders involved. Again, there are legal issues that might disallow that exact set-up, so I am thinking that something like a parent’s committee might be useful. Something similar was brought up where I work recently, but it was shot down using the justification of past experience where the people who ended up joining the committees were the kind of people who were busy-bodies and thought that they controlled the organization. So ideally you want stakeholder input, but you also need balance.