Yes, boards do matter for inclusion

​Corporate and nonprofit board members have an important role in building an inclusive environment that drives performance and financial results.

Corporate and non profit boards of directors—spurred by a mix of persuasive research; pressure from shareholders, employees, customers and business partners; and their own intuitive sense of what’s right—have been working for years to improve diversity in their own ranks. For example, the percentage of women on Fortune 500 boards rose to 22.5 percent in 2018, up from 15.7 percent at the start of this decade. People of color on Fortune 500 boards increased from 12.8 percent in 2010 to 16.1 percent in 2018.


There’s little debate that driving diversity should continue to be an important priority for all organizational leaders; nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly evident that focusing on diversity without also focusing on inclusion is not a winning strategy. Management teams—their efforts often led by chief diversity, inclusion, or human resources officers—have started to recognize this, and some have taken concrete action to develop and execute inclusion strategies that go beyond diversity to create inclusive cultures at their organizations.

Inclusion, however, is an issue whose impor- tance touches leaders beyond the C-suite. So, what can boards do to further promote and solidify an inclusive culture at the organizations they oversee? A great deal, it turns out. Although boards of directors remain one step removed from the C-suite’s execution focus, they have a meaningful role to play in building an inclusive enterprise, and they can govern in ways that put C-suites and organizations on a positive path.

DEFINING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION While diversity and inclusion may be inextricably linked, they are not one and the same.

  • Diversity refers to the presence of people who, as a group, have a wide range of characteristics, seen and unseen, which they were born or have acquired. These characteristics may include their gender identity, race or ethnicity, military or veteran status, LGBTQ+ status, disability status, and more.
  • Inclusion refers to the practice of making all members of an organization feel welcomed and giving them equal opportunity to connect, belong, and grow—to contribute to the organization, advance their skill sets and careers, and feel comfortable and confident being their authentic selves.

The main difference between the two is that diversity is a state of being and is not itself something that is “governed,” while inclusion is a set of behaviors and can be “governed.”

Therefore, this report emphasizes the board’s role in governing inclusion. This by no means diminishes the importance of diversity and the need to continue to drive progress. On the contrary,boards should engage in conversations with management about improving diversity, and this in itself is an inclusive practice.

The full report pdfarrrow


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