Practical steps to improving board diversity

Third Sector Promotion TPP Recruitment

Brigitte Stunder, leadership & governance consultant at TPP Recruitment, explains the importance of having a diverse board to ensure good governance.

It is well researched that having diverse and inclusive teams is crucial to the success of your organisation. Stakeholders are diverse, so a diverse board is important to ensure good governance. A diverse board can challenge opinions, bring a new perspective, and take an organisation forward.

Unfortunately, the not-for-profit sector does not lead the way when it comes to diversity at board level. Getting on Board states that two-thirds of charity trustees are over 50 years old, with men outnumbering women 2:1 nationally as charity trustees. 59% stated that their board does not reflect the communities they serve.

So where do you start when it comes to improving diversity and ensuring inclusion on your board? What can you do practically to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion is at the forefront of your minds when recruiting trustees?

Think beyond skills

Typically, we think of technical skills when recruiting to a board, such as finance and law. However, when you think of diversity, you could consider protected characteristics, class, geography, neurodiversity and increasingly important is considering life and lived experiences. This will enable more underrepresented voices to be heard, meaning different perspectives are considered for improved governance of the organisation.

What are your barriers to diversity?

Consider your advert, job description and person specification. For example, do you require prior board experience as a prerequisite? If so, your talent pool will be limited. By opening this up you will find other candidates with relevant experience. Trustee experience can be learnt, and training can be provided around charity governance.

Do you require a degree? Consider why - is this essential? Again, you will increase your talent pool by removing this.

What language do you use? Words such as ‘senior’, ‘executive’ and ‘significant experience’ can deter people from applying, especially younger trustees. Instead, use words like ‘motivated individual’ and ‘ideas-driven’.

When do you meet? It is important to advertise the commitment involved in this role. However, time and location could put people off applying, for example, during religious events.

How is unconscious bias impacting your decisions?

At a recent Inclusive Employers event, unconscious bias was described as happening outside of our conscious control. They are automatic, triggered as quick judgements and assessments by our brain on situations and people. These are influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.

There are many biases and some of the most common ones include:

  • Affinity bias: We spend more of our time and effort on people we feel are alike.
  • Confirmation bias: We want evidence that proves us to be right.
  • Group thinking: We tend to go along with what the majority think.

Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast & Slow states that 95% of our biases are intuition and instinct, but 5% is rational thinking, which is slower and logical. We need to slow down and be more in tune with our thought process. So how do we do this?

  • Acknowledge that your decisions or behaviour are affected by unconscious bias.
  • Increase your exposure to different people (gender, race, life experience, skills).
  • Do not make decisions when stressed or under pressure. Take your time.
  • Include other people in the decision making process.
  • A diverse board makes it more unlikely that unconscious bias will occur.

Is there a foundation of psychological safety?

An article by Harvard Business Review, High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It, shares some very useful guidance on how to do this. A board of trustees is a team and having this safety firmly embedded will both attract and promote further diversity and importantly, inclusion. Some tips from this report include:

  • Speak human to human.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Measure psychological safety.
  • Replace blame with curiosity.

Next steps?

To ensure your trustees succeed it is important to have a good induction process. Ensure you take on feedback on the recruitment process, engage with them regularly and learn from them to ensure you are inclusive as possible.

For further information on inclusive recruitment visit the TPP D&I hub or download our Inclusive Recruitment Guide here. For further advice on leadership & governance contact Brigitte Stundner at or call 020 7198 6060.

Explore charity careers with TPP Recruitment on Third Sector Jobs, the specialist job site for charity jobs

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