Unplugged: The Importance of Diversity on Nonprofit Boards
“A range of perspectives leads to collaborative tension and that’s the essence of good governance,” said Victoria B. Bjorklund, a retired partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, citing a report from Russell Reynolds Associates.
Bjorklund, speaking at last week’s Unplugged on the importance of diversity in nonprofit boards, should know. In addition to her longtime dedication to serving on Robin Hood’s board — where she chairs the Relief Fund — she also serves on eight other nonprofit boards, teaches the Law of Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard Law School and was a member of the first class of women at Princeton University, graduating in 1973.
On nonprofit boards across the country, only 20% of board members are people of color and only 16% are under the age of 40.
Ivy Grant, VP of customer success at Palo Alto-based start-up Eversight, put it another way, “One of coolest things about serving on Hot Bread Kitchen’s board is the arguments we have.”
Thursday night’s electric discussion, moderated by Bjorklund, featured Grant, who has over 15 years of experience helping world-class companies like Polo Ralph Lauren, McKinsey & Company, and PwC develop new capabilities, and Linton Mann III, a Partner in Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s Litigation Practice who chairs the Uncommon Schools New York City board. The three spoke of their involvement in boards, what drew them to serve, challenges they’ve faced, and opportunities along the way.
Mann spoke of his interest in education as a force for positive change and uplift and how his own education had opened pathways and informed his view. He also addressed some of the challenges with getting involved in board service as a young professional. “When I was two years out of law school I heard about pro bono board involvement and wanted to dedicate energy to something education-related, but the vast majority of the board opportunities required a financial commitment that was beyond my reach.”
Mann recounted how at the time he had turned to his mentor, Bjorklund, for advice. She connected him to Robin Hood’s board placement team and they introduced him to the leaders at Uncommon. “Now, I’m chair of the board of not just one school, but of an organization that oversees twenty-two public charter schools,” explained Mann. (He is also on the Board of Directors of Manhattan Legal Services, a program of Legal Services NYC, the largest provider of pro bono civil legal services in the country; and is Secretary for the Board of Directors of DukeNY, a division of the Duke Alumni Association.)
“Get them when they’re young!” Bjorklund emphatically counseled the audience. “The rising stars will grow with your organizations over time.”
Grant spoke of how board service was a natural thing to do since she grew up in the South Bronx in a “church family” where her mother was always actively volunteering and involved in civic life.
So, after talking with a member of the Robin Hood team about nonprofit board service opportunities, Grant was drawn to Hot Bread Kitchen, a South Bronx-based social enterprise focused on cultivating professional opportunities for foreign-born and minority women through baking training and culinary business incubation.
What has she found most fulfilling about serving on Hot Bread Kitchen’s board?
“We’re not only helping women get jobs; we’re changing the face of the male-dominated culinary industry,” she said.
Robin Hood’s board placement services: Every year, Robin Hood’s board placement team matches dozens of professionals with nonprofit boards. Robin Hood has helped hundreds of organizations recruit and retain board members.
Hot Bread Kitchen is a nonprofit social enterprise that is helping create a food system that equitably compensates talent and sustains a diverse workforce while celebrating culinary tradition and innovation. The organization achieves its mission through employer-driven workforce development and business incubation programs.
Uncommon Schools New York City starts and manages outstanding urban public charter schools that close the achievement gap and prepare low-income students to graduate from college.
The Robin Hood Unplugged series offers a deeper glimpse into poverty in New York City and the work that Robin Hood is doing to help our neighbors in need. Speakers include top philanthropic leaders, executive directors from Robin Hood funded programs, and Robin Hood staff members. Each gathering focuses on a specific topic and fosters an atmosphere that promotes questions and thoughtful discussion. If you are interested in attending, please email email@example.com.
 Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, BoardSource, 2016.