A FOUNDATION PRESIDENT SHARES HER VIEWS ON THE VALUE OF DIVERSITY IN THE BOARDROOM
D5 asked Unmi Song, President of the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, two key questions: Why is it critical to have diverse perspectives in a foundation’s leadership? And what can CEOs do to successfully nurture and facilitate trustee engagement in these issues? Here are her insights.
This story is from the annual D5 State of the Work report.
It has been said numerous times already, but there is still significance in the statement, different backgrounds and life experiences bring a richer and more diverse conversation to boardrooms.
Diversity can bring in points of view that would never have occurred to a group otherwise. In the way that a lawyer will tend to look at an issue differently than a banker would, so too does a person of color, an immigrant, or a person from the LGBTQ or disability community.
A person of color from staff can add perspective, but it is much more powerful when a board member brings that perspective. It allows for a deeper and richer conversation. Sometimes it can bring the issue “closer to home,” make it more personal, show the rest of the board that the issue is not just about “others,” but about all of us. That is powerful when we are talking about fundamental structures in our society.
Serving as a trustee of a foundation is an exceptional opportunity — there are not many people who have had the experience. There are not many people with whom to share your experience or of whom to ask questions. And that is exponentially more the case for trustees of color or other excluded communities.
When our trustee Graham Grady organized the first reception for foundation trustees of color, there was significant interest and enthusiasm. They stayed past closing time and we needed to walk them out the door while they continued their conversations. They were eager to build a community and share experiences. It now has become an annual event, co-sponsored by the Donors Forum (now known as Forefront). And there is a trustee subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion.
Do you have to have someone from the community to speak for the community? Does it help to have someone who has experienced discrimination to bring a different perspective on ways to address poverty? Is it reasonable to ask one person of color to speak on behalf of all people of color? The answer to these types of questions is not always the same. But having these perspectives bring nuance, complexity, and depth to analysis and investigation.
Introduce the topics. Highlight the issues. Bring information and resources. Make it easy for the board members to engage. Keep looking for resources, articles, and events that could be of interest. It is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing issue that is connected to all types of topics. Look for different contexts and approaches.
Get involved. Your participation tells the board it is something important to you and something you value enough to put your time and effort into.