When the CEO and board chair of a reproductive health care organization approached me for board membership, I was interested in learning how I could contribute.
Like many nonprofits, they were struggling to recruit and reflect the diversity of the communities they served.
They invited me out to lunch and later discussed their desire to build a diverse board that included more people of color, particularly African American women. The CEO and board chair thought my connections in the community and work in the field of HIV and sex education would help them to advance the organization’s goals to service more African American women.
“Our goal is to help reduce the HIV health care disparities African American women face by removing barriers to care,” they explained. “Do you have ideas that can help us do that?”
As a black lesbian working as a social worker with keen insights on the health care disparities facing communities of color, I knew that I had the skills and knowledge to help the organization further its mission. Later, after becoming a board member, I was eager to help recruit more people of color, mainly because the leadership did these seven things to recruit me and keep me engaged as a member of the leadership team.
1. Their invitation was warm and personal.
Meeting over lunch showed me at the outset that these leaders were sincere in getting to know me and me knowing them. We talked about our personal lives, our shared values and commitment to social justice. Then we talked about how the organization focused on those shared values and commitment.
2. They were knowledgeable about my work and accomplishments in the community.
They were familiar with my work and genuinely interested in what I had to offer based on my skills, experience, and connections in the community. They articulated the organization’s goals and asked how I could contribute to achieving those goals.
3. I was engaged in a thorough interview and selection process.
Never did I get the sense that I was being asked to join to check-the-box. The interview process provided me insight into their recruitment practices and allowed me to meet other people of color on the board so I knew I would not be the first and only. I learned their selection criteria were tough and that I made the cut.
4. I was assigned an orientation “buddy” before my first board meeting.
I was paired with a seasoned board member who met me early before my first meeting to help break the ice. The CEO and board chair did the same when we attended national conferences and events. They averted cliques and invited me to their hotel suite and other social gatherings aside from the formal conference meetings.
5. During board meetings, both the CEO and board chair would invite me into the discussion if I had not yet spoken.
They recognized another valuable dimension of diversity – introverted versus extroverted work styles. They did not allow the more extroverted board members to take over group discussions at the expense of quieter contributors.
6. The CEO and board chair walked the talk.
I was on the board during an election season where a presidential candidate proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay couples from marriage. At risk of seeming to stray from the organization’s mission, the leadership proposed a resolution that the board take a stand and publicly reject such homophobia and discrimination. They cited the organization’s values of respect and inclusion, the same shared values we discussed over lunch several months prior to me becoming a board member.
7. They asked me to step into leadership early.
I was asked to co-chair the board development committee and use my facilitation skills to help the board tackle some tough decision-making.
My experience exemplifies how the non-profit’s leadership created an environment where I knew my presence added to the diversity needed on the board, but I did not represent the diversity on the board. I was included, respected for my skills, and engaged both socially and professionally to help the organization reach its goals. These strategies go beyond diversity. They are the hallmark of successful board recruitment.
In my next article, I’ll share ways to define and leverage the various dimensions of diversity to recruit and retain a diverse team supported for success.