What associations can learn about diversity from President Obama’s second-term Cabinet.
President Barack Obama has faced plenty of criticism recently for the lack of diversity in his second-term Cabinet. Critics have said that while visible diversity is missing, Obama is also beginning to surround himself with likeminded individuals.
In government, the president’s the boss, and the Cabinet is advising him. In associations, the CEO and his staff advise the board, and it’s the board who has final say.
Associations can certainly relate to the president’s situation.
“There’s an expectation that the leadership of the organization will be demographically representative of the membership of the organization,” said Glenn Tecker, chairman and co-CEO of Tecker International, LLC. “In the Cabinet, the assumption is that there ought to be a reasonable reflection of the demography of America; association boards are created in order for there to be sufficiently diverse perspectives at the table for conversations about policy and strategy.”
There is a fundamental difference between government and the association board that should be noted though, said Tecker. “In government, the president’s the boss, and the Cabinet is advising him. In associations, the CEO and his staff advise the board, and it’s the board who has final say.
“What is in common is the desire to have access to diverse perspectives in seeing what possibilities there are in making decisions. Whoever is ultimately accountable for the outcome needs to have access to diverse views in order to have confidence in their decision.”
But how can a board that is actively striving to be diverse, both visibly and philosophically, continue to meet that goal and still be an effective board?
“What we find works best is a nominating committee,” said Tecker. They are responsible for vetting candidates in two ways: First, on whether they have the skill sets required to be a good board member, and second, on whether they fill a gap in perspective that currently exists on the board.
“For associations, different skill sets and perspectives may have to do with education levels, the role that an individual plays in the industry or profession, or time spent in the industry or profession,” said Tecker. “The assumption is that those variables will reflect different views of the relevant world, because the experiences of individuals in each of those categories will be definably different than the experience of folks who are not.”
How does your association focus on bringing diverse individuals and opinions to the boardroom?