In a recent blog, we explored the downside of paying lip service to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a board and the consequences of assuming that DEI policies and strategies apply to the organisation only and not considering the board itself. Today’s blog looks at the upsides when boards focus on their own DEI before deciding what to implement for the wider organisation and highlights some best in practice examples.
We have all heard the accusation that boards, from FTSE 100 companies through to the smallest charity, are not diverse and do not represent the stakeholders that they serve. A lot of work has been done in recent years to rebalance this; however without an ongoing focus of inclusivity this can be meaningless. Board members hired for their diversity (be that under the Equality Act 2010 or for their diversity of thought or other characteristics) often speak of isolation and even choosing to leave a board because of lack of inclusion. The recruitment process and advert are only the first step, not the solution.
Fortunately there are a number of organisations taking DEI very seriously, addressing and acknowledging their past failings. A large national charity where I am a trustee has this as a top priority right now and has been consulting widely with employees and other stakeholders before “putting pen to paper” to create the strategy. At a recent “away-day” we dedicated half a day to a workshop facilitated by an external DEI expert, that included the executive leadership as well as the non-executive board. Openness and transparency about what we do and don’t understand really helped us to identify the gaps in our policies and what to prioritise in our strategy. This even went so far as to redesign a multi-million bound build project to increase the inclusivity of our space for internal and external stakeholders.
Another board I am involved with used their recent “away day” to do a deep dive into understanding the neurodiversity of the board. We completed insight questionnaires in advance which were debriefed by an external expert on the day and our differences mapped and shared. We were able to identify whether we covered a broad spectrum of types to maximise the quality of the board’s thinking. We also explored preferred communication styles for the profiles so that we could more effectively communicate, challenge and achieve consensus.
These are two examples of boards really focusing on “our” (the board’s) DEI before presuming to set the strategy for “their” (the broader organisation’s). This is paramount if Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is to live and breathe in the organisation as a whole and deliver the commercial and social benefits not merely the legal compliance. As NEDs we can champion this best practice by ensuring our board’s have the right focus for DEI and calling it out when not.
Sarah O’Neill is a graduate of the NED Accelerator® Programme and one of our valued members. Sarah is an experienced non-executive director, board advisor and committee member, with Chair experience. Her non-Executive experience encompasses private and public sector, as well as charity sector as a trustee.