Discomfort Is The New Black: 5 Ways Nonprofit Boards Can Learn How To Become More Inclusive

Christal M. CherryFebruary 23, 2021

board retreat facilitator

It’s okay. No one is going to shoot darts at you or your board of directors because you’ve been asleep at the wheel when it comes to racial equity and diversifying your membership.

As Maya Angelou said, “When You Know Better, Do Better.” The time has come. You now know better. We’ve told you. There have been numerous workshops, talks, discussions, and webinars on this subject. I’ve done a few myself. In fact, I have a new e-book on this very subject. Check my website, The Board Pro, to get some insight.

But in this quick blog, I am dropping some useful 411 on five ways you can get started on your journey of doing the right thing and including the rest of us in board service.

1. Take control.

Do something to get the outcomes you want. No one can force board members to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. It has to be voluntary. This means they must be ready to do some self-reflection to address personal biases and their contributions to institutional and structural racism. It will be uncomfortable for some. The elephant is in the room, and he is stomping his feet and shaking the walls. But there will be survivors!

2. Seek help.

As much as we believe we can do all things, Inclusion Work is not easy. There’s a plethora of DEI consultants who can support you. This will require significant time and a financial investment. This is not the place to skim. Expect training and exploratory work to last anywhere from three months to a year and application to continue up to seven to ten years. Get your coins ready because this could be a $10k-$20k project.

3. Value progress over perfection.

The road on this journey will be bumpy and imperfect. Grab your roller skates. Make sure they have stop bumps when you need to pause, pivot, or turn in another direction. You may have to spin, that is rotate on one foot, while holding the other. Find a DEI practitioner who values patience and who will be ready to lean in and provide your board with the steady support they need to stay focused on process and outcomes and not speed towards the end goal. Again, this is a long journey.

4. Do your homework.

Even before you secure a professional, your board can engage in preliminary work to prepare themselves for the road ahead. Seek out good information. There are multiple resources to get you started. Start with Board Source and buy books on inclusion from black-owned bookstores. Here is a list with stores from Pittsburgh to Paris.

In addition to reading, ask other nonprofit boards that have begun or completed the diversity, equity, and inclusion journey about resources they have used.

5. Rest in discomfort, but breathe.

This is it. Making the decision to get started is all that matters. Things may get weird for your mostly-white board, made up of middle-aged men. Some may grab their hats and exit left and that’s OK. Know that change will only happen when the board is ready to speak up, step up, or even buck up to what has been a comfy and exclusive culture for way too long.

Remember: Boards serve as good stewards for public good. Not until we are all in the room with a seat at the table will we be able to fulfill our commitments to be change agents. Added to duty of care, loyalty, and obedience should be duty to inclusion. Our world needs this, particularly now.

I just bought my son a dart board for Christmas. Did you know that darts were first played in the 1860s? There are actual health benefits to throwing darts. It helps with hand/eye coordination, improves concentration and confidence, and relieves stress. There is no other point here. Just sharing for those who care… particularly board members.

The title of this article is based loosely on the title of another article about self-care. Thank you, Nina Yarbrough, for your humorous essay inviting us to make the change we want to see in our personal lives and the world.

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