The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion on Association Boards

As you look around your board table, do you see the future of the industry, or do you see the past?

Industries will continue to undergo transformation, associations dedicated to serving and advocating for them must also adapt. As leaders of these associations, it is imperative that we evolve in tandem to ensure a more promising future for those under our care. By fostering diversity among your board of directors, you can ensure that your industry is ready for the future.

Building A Strong Team of Problem-Solvers

A diverse board brings together those with different backgrounds, perspectives and lived experiences to work on the issues facing the association. When you build a diverse board, you build a strong team of problem-solvers by engaging the minds of a variety of your association’s stakeholders and supporting more well-rounded decision-making.

In an interview with CIO magazine on October 24, 2023, Ashley Kelly, co-founder and CEO of CultureAlly said “Inclusive teams are 87% more likely to make better decisions than non-inclusive ones.” This occurs because diversity stimulates a more thoughtful processing of information, prompts additional questions and reduces unquestioning acceptance of the opinions of authoritative individuals.

Representation Matters

An association board that mirrors the diversity of its members is better prepared to identify and address the needs of its membership. Imagine an association board including only those with the same educational background from the same geographic area with the same life experiences. Members from diverse backgrounds may not feel that their needs are being adequately represented. When considering new products or services, if the established leadership is dictating all the decisions, the association is less likely to attract the next generations of members. This is especially the case with advocacy efforts when those who feel as though they are not being represented could just as easily create their own association if they perceive gaps in the services or messages presented.

Perception is Reality

An association with a diverse board of directors is more likely to be seen by outside stakeholders as thoughtful and inclusive. Industry partners, members and the public are not homogenous. Your board should not be either. In 2021, the SEC approved NASDAQ’s Board Diversity Disclosure Requirements which require most companies to keep diverse representation on their boards and offers a “comply or explain” approach to enforcement. If your supplier members, donors, or industry partners are bound to these guidelines, they will look to you for the same representation.

Embracing diversity and inclusion within the association board can create a more dynamic and responsive leadership structure that is better positioned to serve its members now and into the future.

Picture of Melissa Heeke, CAE, MLD

Melissa Heeke, CAE, MLD

Melissa Heeke is an association management professional with 20 years of experience and is a Certified Association Executive (CAE). She has a wide range of skills including volunteer management, leadership development, member engagement programs and membership growth. She has also received multiple awards for her work in associations including ASAE's "Power of A" Silver Award and ISAE's Association Professional of the Year.