Being Board

I was asked on two consecutive days, to contribute to discussions, panels and training to help senior leaders develop Diverse and Inclusive Boards, for two completely different sectors. And then, I was asked for my opinion on a tweet about why Boards aren’t representative of Diversity.

So, I thought I’d share a rewrite of a talk I gave on the subject. Here it is:

We need to talk about Adam.

Adam came to my attention, whilst he was creating disruption…

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Adam Buss is the CEO of Derby Quad, the arts centre in the city. About 2 years ago Adam saw an opportunity… to seek to create a Diverse Board and to retain it.

The first step Quad took was to assess the current make-up of their board. Board members were asked to reflect on their skills and demographics, including economic diversity, via a board audit.

The review outcome was then used to reflect back to the board the current make-up, and have a discussion on how they could fill the identified gaps. Some Board members chose to leave as a result. Adam says: Change can create friction but that should not be a reason for not trying to go through the process in the first place.

The recruitment was done in a number of ways on a variety of platforms, by advertising for the skills Quad was looking for and making it clear that they wanted to attract a diversity of candidates. However, it was also imperative that they approached things proactively and reached out to candidates within their own community rather than simply waiting for them to respond to adverts. In the first instance candidates were asked for a letter of interest and a CV.

This led to the next stage, which was to host a welcome event for all that had expressed an interest. For those candidates who were unable to attend, Adam met with them in person and sometimes with the board chair to further assess their suitability. From this, recommendations, endorsed by the chair, were made to full board and once approved the new board members were appointed.

You want to know how this story ends, right?

This has led to the following: A 55/45 female/male gender split on the board including a female chair, three ethnic minority board members, an average age of 47 down from over 50, and two board members who live with a limiting disability.

Adam says: “The journey isn’t over and they want to focus on even further diversification moving forward and the key things for him are understanding in detail where they are as an organisation and being proactive in finding relevant candidates. It is not enough to simply say ‘people didn’t apply’.”

We are also working on a more comprehensive diversity policy which covers all areas of our organisation from HR to audiences and governance”… and I say “we”, because I am on that board.

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I have never been on a board before and I would never have considered it, were the advert in the local paper, or on some ‘people-who-want-to-be-on-boards’ website, rather than on Facebook; the opportunity had been shared by Derby book Festival. And I follow them because my neighbour, the founder of Derby Book Festival, reached out to me one day and said ‘I’d like you to be involved’. If Adam hadn’t reached out immediately when I asked, ‘erm, what’s this all about then?’, I’d not be a board member. And, if after accepting me, they hadn’t welcomed the difference and input I bring and allowed me to contribute to Board in different ways, not just in meetings, as does the Chair, I wouldn’t still be a Board member. I’ve been invited along to enough things as ‘a token’ to know when that’s happening to me. Quad always ensure a culture of inclusion.

The only thing that would have made that tale sweeter would have been if my name was Eve…

The key here is that Adam knows what diversity is and what inclusion looks and feels like… Deloitte statistics state, 74% of senior executives want to be better at Diversity and Inclusion, but only 24% know the definition of Diversity.

So, let’s clear some of that up. These are the definitions I like to use.

Diversity is the mix of visible and invisible differences such as gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, different abilities, sexual orientation, religion, communication styles, education, people who wear glasses, those with dyslexia, unicorn lovers, fairy believers etc. etc. etc. Everyone is part of diversity. Diverse isn’t something that other people are. We are all part of Diversity. I know there are people amongst you who love glitter and unicorns, but you won’t say anything for fear of being judged… what about if you voted for Brexit…can you mention that out loud… You don’t look for “diverse candidates”, you look for candidates representing diversity.

The question for organisations is are you reflecting/ hiring/serving the mix of ALL visible and invisible difference?

So, what’s inclusion?

Inclusion is the culture where people feel their different perspectives, styles and needs are respected, valued and taken into account.

The two words are not interchangeable. They are separate, but interlinked concepts.

So, if Diversity is the mix and Inclusion is the culture, a key word… culture — what is that?

People who work in cultural organisations, I’d like you to park the idea of arts and culture for a moment, and focus on, for example. organisational culture…

Culture can be defined as a system of behaviours that helps us act in an Acceptable and Familiar way.

The problem is of course, what’s Acceptable and Familiar to you, may not be Acceptable and Familiar to me. We have the old adage, treat others as you wish to be treated, do unto others as you wish to have them do unto you… but we need to revisit that — that’s about treating others by looking at them through your own cultural lens.

We need to start treating other people as THEY wish to be treated — and that’s how you build an inclusive culture.

But doing that is hard. It’s very difficult, And frustrating. And challenging. But I’d like you to go into any Diversity and Inclusion training considering this…

Those facilitating that training are like your personal trainers, we’re here to help you get Inclusion Fit; but you have to do the exercise.

And I recommend the Cultural Intelligence approach (CQ).

You have to start with your motivation (CQ Drive); why do you want to get Fitter…

You have to gather the information you need (CQ Knowledge); what do you need to know…

You have to strategise and plan (CQ Strategy); make time in your day for the exercise…

And then you Action it (CQ Action); you actually do the exercise.

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And just like you can’t see us today and run a marathon tomorrow, you start with small stretches, a warm up — a practice within your comfort zone, and maybe a run around the block.

And it might hurt, and you might get it wrong… and tomorrow despite your exercise, you see no change…

You have to keep going, day-after-day, to develop stronger muscles, and slowly, slowly you build up, and over time, you get fitter and stronger, until you can run longer and further.

But it takes repeated efforts and upkeep. And, like all fitness regimes, as soon as you stop, you’re likely to start to slip back into old ways.

So, don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourselves; take the learning and implement it; deliberately, mindfully, slowly, gradually and repeatedly… and not only will your boards be truly representative of Diversity, but you’ll retain them with your hard-worked-for Inclusive culture.

If you would like help going through the Cultural Intelligence process to bring about inclusive change in your organisation, please get in touch with me.

Marsha Ramroop, Advanced Certified Cultural Intelligence Practitioner and Facilitator marsha.ramroop@unheardvoice.co.uk 07947 474958