Managing Diversity: 5 Ways Your Board Can Get Results

Guest post by Jim Gauss and Howard Jessamy

Managing Diversity: 5 Ways Your Board Can Get Results

Fourth in a series of findings from Witt/Kieffer’s 2011 national survey report Building the Business case. Healthcare Diversity Leadership.

Over the past few months in this series on advancing leadership diversity, I’ve shared some key findings from our 2011 national survey report, noted specific barriers  to improving and managing diversity in a meaningful way, explained why mentoring is the number one best practice to use, and explored the potential costs  to organizations without a successful diversity initiative.

 As Howard Jessamy noted in his January 2012 blog, getting buy-in starts at the top: with your board. It’s hard managing diversity in the executive leadership ranks unless there are a variety of perspectives represented on the board, so as Jessamy explains, the board’s first job is to convince itself that internal diversity is critical to success.

 What Can the Board Do?

  1. Define and document diversity and its expectations. Be inclusive. Consider these discussion starters: What is cultural competence? What is the specific goal of a diversity initiative? How do community members define themselves? Should diversity be a goal within each department? Among department heads? Within the C-suite?
  2. Make it a strategic priority. Some ideas: Request regular progress reports on diversity recruiting and retention and debriefings on the loss of a minority executive. Insist on organizational standards for cultural sensitivity. Ensure diversity training is comprehensive, ongoing, and organizationwide. Some Boards tie a small portion of executive compensation to how well the organization is meeting diversity objectives.
  3. Help the organization become a magnet for minority talent. The board can start by analyzing the experience of their own diverse executives to learn from their experience and perspective. They can ensure they understand the demographics of the areas served by the organization to gauge alignment.
  4. Formalize diversity as part of the succession planning and mentoring processes. This is what the most successful organizations do!  Recruit from inside by drawing on a talented “farm team” of up-and-comers. If your organization is too small for a formalized mentoring program, you can still develop an informal mentoring initiative to can convene mentors and mentees. Meet quarterly to review progress on developmental goals.
  5. Mandate diverse slates for leadership positions. Boards need to walk to the talk when it comes to diversity recruitment. They can suggest sources for finding qualified candidates and network with diversity leadership organizations.

 Clearly, the board can’t act in isolation. But where the C-suite may be distracted with other organizational pressures, board members can be invaluable in managing diversity and creating a competitive advantage this year.

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