The Strauss Blog

Diversity in the Association Boardroom

Association boards are given the responsibility of taking the best interest of its collective membership into consideration while making knowledgeable and well thought-out decisions. Often these decisions made around the boardroom table are of a strategic nature that may alter or transform the future outlook of the association.

One characteristic of a board’s inner workings that can often stand in the way of an association board’s ability to make educated and sound decisions is insufficient board member diversity.

A lack of diversity is a recipe for pressure to conform. Formal and informal attempts are made to discourage discussion of differing views as groups of members can exert great pressure on individual members to conform. Opposing ideas are easily dismissed and any individual or outside group that criticizes or opposes a decision may receive little or no attention from the majority of the group. Group members will tend to show strong favoritism toward their own ideas in the manner by which information is processed and evaluated, thus guaranteeing that their ideas will win out.

A lack of diversity can truly harm an association board’s decision-making process as it can lead to board members making biased decisions in the process. This action is normally in relation to a board member’s effort to maintain cohesiveness and solidarity within the board at all costs. Such group pressure can force many board members to not push against dominant attitudes instead of challenging the view of the majority at the boardroom table.

Associations need to take steps to diversify their boardroom to assist them in overcoming this potential roadblock in the group decision-making process. A board of directors should incorporate as much diversity as the association’s membership base, and beyond.

The following five points will assist an association in mapping out how to build a truly diversified board:

1. The Chair. The board chair, by default, plays a crucial role in creating and nurturing a well-functioning boardroom. The chair must encourage all board members to express their views, be welcoming to new ideas and concepts, and foster an environment for constructive debate.

2. Young Professionals. It is vital to incorporate competent young professionals within the building blocks of your board. This is particularly true if the association is representing an industry that is heavily utilized by this demographic.

3. Gender diversity. A critical component in creating diversity at the board level is ensuring varied perspectives, both masculine and feminine strengths, are present and appropriately represented.

4. A board with a well-rounded cultural mosaic empowers itself to better understand the community in which the association is active and its broad and diverse range of members.

5. Broad Professional Representation. Including representation from a cross section of professionals with industry specific knowledge such as finance, development, marketing or law assists an association’s board to better navigate different sorts of operational challenges that may arise.

Association boards that actively encourage and promote the aforementioned points into their boardroom will have the ability to openly and respectfully challenge ideas and be well equipped with the essential tools for sound board interactions and decision making.

Stay tuned to the Strauss Blog for my next entry that will focus on Irving Janis’ theory of Groupthink and his six ways of preventing it from forming within an association’s board of directors.