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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Organization leaders discuss board diversity strategies
by Matt Simonette
2020-08-19

This article shared 1333 times since Wed Aug 19, 2020
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Windy City Times recently surveyed a number of local organizations about the diversity of both their board leadership and their organization's staff and employees.

That initial survey, which appeared in the July 22 issue of Windy City Times { www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/How-community-organizations-tackle-diversity-Complete-responses/68913.html ], primarily emphasized how leadership tackled diversity across the LGBTQ spectrum, i.e., whether transgender or bisexual members and staff played prominent roles. The publication will further investigate what considerations organizations make for racial diversity or diversity among economic groups.

One of the greatest challenges facing any not-for-profit is making sure that the leadership of that organization can effectively engage with the constituency they serve, said Mary Morten of the Morten Group consultancy, which assists organizations in locating both board members and staff.

"When we think about our non-profit organizations and the programming and services that they are providing, it is critical that staff and board have some understanding of the lived experiences of those that they are servicing," she added. "Executives and senior leadership needs to reflect that diversity and those lived experiences."

Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson noted, "It is really important for communities to see themselves reflected in decision-making bodies, not just in advisory groups or onstage at events, but really at the table."

LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Director Jerome' Holston said his organization is diligent about "identifying where there are gaps on our board and evaluating where there are skills and backgrounds that we need. It's a matter of going from there to identifying people we think can fill those roles. We of course have a preference for candidates who are members of the LGBTQ community, but it is not required."

Johnson said that organizations who are not conscientious about their leadership diversity risks becoming lost in a "vicious cycle," wherein the organization's constituency engages less and then leadership loses perspective either further.

"It means we're identifying the right issues that matter to our community, analyzing those issues in the best way and coming up with solutions that meet most of the needs of our community," Johnson explained.

But the LGBTQ community's perspective on what constitutes diversity is fluid and ever-changing, acknowledged AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) President and CEO John Peller.

"We're having a national conversation about the role of race and racism in society and in all organizations from corporations, to nonprofits, to the government to schools," he added. "It's really critical as AFC thinks about improving our response and our racial equity as an organization to really talk about and name racial equity as a goal for the organization. It's also critical for us to have the conversation about how we can be an anti-racist organization in our policies and practices, so that's something we're working hard to implement."

Pastor Jamie Frazier, who heads the community activist group Lighthouse Foundation, said his organization's leadership council is composed primarily of Black LGBTQ people "so we could authentically speak for and from our community. It was also important that trans and Black queer women's voices were centered as well."

Johnson acknowledged the pitfalls organizations can fall into as their boards chart their leadership strategies.

"Where I've seen organizations fail is if they think a primary purpose of an organization is to raise money, so therefore only people with access to capital should be on the board, [then] you' re not going to get a diverse group no matter what policies you put forward," he said.

Johnson added that the board diversity must be a constant consideration: "If you bring on new board members in June, you can't have a meeting in February and say 'who should we be talking to?'"

Morten emphasized that organizations must go forward acknowledging the ever-changing considerations organizations must consider as they go forward.

"To diversify your board or staff, it's important to understand that diversity is not just on race—that's what's most obvious to us," she explained. "But we need to look at disability, gender identity and of course sexual orientation. We need to look at economics. All of these are diversity vectors for a board and they must decide how they need to prioritize these indicators."

The July 22 survey is at windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/How-community-organizations-tackle-diversity-Complete-responses/68913.html.

—Emily Reilly contributed reporting for this story.


This article shared 1333 times since Wed Aug 19, 2020
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