When breakthroughs are made for advancement of dynamic organizations, it is because many intricate systems have worked in harmony to output something brand new. It is integral to keep a close eye on the system that puts everything into motion, the board. Regular self assessment of the health of the board as a whole can be a beautiful method for breakdown prevention. When was the last time your board assessed your strengths and weaknesses? What might you find this time around that could open the door to supporting your mission even further?
Assess for success.
To ensure the passion of the mission continues to be fueled by motivated board members, I encourage you to look at Leading with Intent: 2017 BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. According to their findings, it is highly valuable to be self reflective. “Boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities…boards that assessed their performance more recently (within the past two years) report higher performance scores than those that assessed less recently.” Make sure everyone is in the know about why, when, what, who, and how these assessments will be put in place so everyone is on board.
Uncover Unconscious Bias.
Your organization must look inward in order to function at their very best. One “why” for regular assessment is to make sure the board is responsibly reflecting multiple demographics and moving away from the idea of having the “token roles” covered. Having one woman, one person of color, and one person that is disabled can set the board up to unconsciously ignore these members and look at them as outsiders that only represent their demographic. Higher percentages of diversity for true representation is necessary so tokenism can fall to the wayside. Emily Peck’s article, One Woman In The Boardroom Isn’t Enough. Here’s Why engages with Elizabeth Dolan, who quit her board post with Quicksilver due to “an unacceptable level of unconscious gender bias.” Being the “token” can cause these members to burnout and have their talents be silenced.
Embrace collaboration over competition.
Boards can miss out when these brilliant voices are muffled under the “business as usual” that can be found in all white, male boardrooms. It can pit those who are perceived as “other” against one another in competition to be the one the rest of the board listens to. I have been the only woman in the boardroom and it has been a delightful evolution to see other women as potential collaborators rather than the competition. I have gained the insight that visionaries are made from all sorts and we must push through to make this a reality in boardrooms across the globe.
Aminatou Sow, writer and one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Tech and Ann Friedman, journalist who regularly contributes to New York magazine and The Los Angeles Times coined the idea of Shine Theory, which illustrates this point. Engaging with powerful, knowledgeable women and befriending, collaborating, and sharing resources strengthens everyone involved. “Shine Theory is an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return. It is a conscious decision to bring your full self to your friendships, and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” The answer is almost always yes.” This can be applied to the broader scheme of all relationships, especially within the boardroom.
No matter how strong your board is, it can always be stronger. By scheduling and normalizing regular self assessments you can be confident that your organization isn’t overlooking issues that need to be addressed. You will maximize on the time you have to work with. By opening your eyes you may be excited to find new solutions to weaknesses that held you back in the past. Onward and upward!
Megan Van Petten
Van Petten Group, Inc.