Board-Level Diversity

Vol. 14 No. 4

trustees eletter vol14 no4 boarddiversity

Start your school’s diversity efforts at the Board level. Here, diversity can be addressed without the kind of direct costs usually associated with achieving socioeconomic or socioethnic diversity in your student body, or diversity in your administration, faculty, and staff. As Board President, your starting point is in your planning document, every iteration of which should call for a Board profile to be developed to fit the strategic or long range plan. Open the way for a Board discussion of diversity, even for a broad topic like “Increase the socioeconomic and socioethnic diversity on the Board of Trustees.” The process includes the following universal steps.

  • Charge your Committee on Trustees with a periodic review of your planning document.
  • Ask the Committee Chair to revise your previous Board profile to fit the new planning document, to facilitate the next stage of your existing document—in this case, including Board-level diversity as a goal. The resulting profile will typically call for “slots” to be filled with individuals to enhance the diversity of the Board.
  • Once the Committee on Trustees completes a new Board profile, place the drafted profile on the full-Board agenda for examination, discussion, modification, and adoption, in the same fashion as with any other significant new committee proposal.
  • Once the Board approves the new profile, charge the Committee on Trustees to:
    • spearhead the process of developing lists of individuals to match the profile;
    • cultivate those individuals to Board committee and/or to full-Board membership;
    • provide Trustee orientation for all new Board members; and
    • evaluate their Board and/or Board committee performance over time.

These steps and procedures comprise the Board profiling process and its follow-up activities under any circumstances. When Board-level diversity has become part of your strategic or long range plan, these generic steps will, of course, then include actions that are specific to that strategic or long range goal.

Summarize in a four-item list what you, as Board President, may choose to put into effect.

  • Annually pull the “Board-level diversity” items from your planning document and place the items within the context of your annual Board agenda.
  • From their position on the annual Board agenda, reformulate the items into a portion of the charge given to your Committee on Trustees. (For example, “As our committee develops its new Board profile, attend to the issues of socioeconomic and socioethnic diversity, consistent with our newly adopted strategic plan.”)
  • When the Committee on Trustees presents its newly drafted Board profile to the full Board for consideration, ensure the profile includes umbrella language: “In accordance with the implications of the strategic plan, the profile slots indicated should be occupied by individuals who, as part of the overall mix, provide:
    • a balance of affluence and non-affluence (i.e., socioeconomic diversity);
    • a geographical distribution encompassing our school’s major ‘draw areas’ for its student body;
    • ethnic diversity reflecting our community’s overall ethnic mix (i.e., socioethnic diversity);
    • leadership potential that has been demonstrated in other contexts;
    • influence within the overall community and within special segments of the community; and/or
    • integrity, compassion, and a willingness to work toward the greater good.”

(Here the profile proper—the recommended list of profiled slots—would begin.)

  • As the Committee on Trustees launches the cultivation process, seek the most efficient combinations of “profile slots” and “umbrella considerations.” For example, a “real estate professional specializing in institutional properties” who also fits one or more of the umbrella considerations (e.g., affluence, ethnic minority, influence within a special segment of the community, integrity) may be a more desirable target for Board cultivation than one who fits none of the umbrella considerations.

Success in achieving Board-level diversity does not guarantee subsequent success in achieving student-body diversity—or administration, faculty, and staff diversity. This approach is the most feasible starting point, however. The presence of diversity on the Board can alter the image of your school in ways that make the desired ripple effect more likely to occur.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 14 No. 3 Defining “Normal”: Double-Edged Diversity Initiatives in Private Schools

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
ISM Workshop: The Double-Edged Sword of Diversity: Reframing Community Life Initiatives in Independent Schools
I&P Vol. 39 No. 2 Financial and Cultural Questions About Socioeconomic Diversity
I&P Vol. 38 No. 13 Your School’s Statement on Diversity
I&P Vol. 38 No. 12 Defining Diversity in Your School’s Culture: Implications for Planning

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