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Board Diversity and the Challenge of Bias

Board Diversity and the Challenge of Bias

Diversity:  What is it and Why is it important?

Diversity is any factor that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. Our communities, workplaces, clubs and associations and educational bodies increasingly encompass a range of cultural, racial and ethnic groups. It is imperative that we celebrate, embrace and reflect this diversity.

Diversity presents us with an opportunity to learn new things, to increase collaboration and enhance social cohesion. To achieve this, we need to develop deeper understandings, increased empathy and shared values.

To this end it is essential that Third Sector Boards are reflective of the demographic that their organisations represent, their employees and volunteers and wider society. All this, whilst ensuring that the Board has the necessary skills portfolio at its’ disposal!

Diversity does not just cover demographics; it is about achieving the right mix of skills based diversity. A robust appraisal of a Board’s current composition in terms of skill-set and sectoral experience is every bit as important as ensuring it is reflective of society.

I appreciate that this is not an easy challenge at the outset. However, all journeys begin with a first step and the recruitment process for Board members is an ideal starting point.

I am a great believer that great ideas and societal impact comes from a disruption of the status quo. What better way to achieve this than to lead from the front and create a diverse board capable of collaborative challenge.


The Elephant in the Room: Bias

Bias; ‘ an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair’.

The words bias and unfair are by their nature emotive. However, we should be mindful that the majority of bias stereotypes do not come from a place of negative intent. They are generally as a result of unconscious stereotypes that have been formed in our psyche through a multitude of different influences that were typically beyond our control.

It has been said to be human is to have bias, it is impossible to remove it from the human psyche. Once accepted it can be a powerful enabler if we recognise what our personal bias factors are. On recognition and with acceptance comes the opportunity to challenge those bias and open ourselves up to the counterfactual.

Professionals and academics have segmented the various forms of bias to include areas such as conformity bias and affinity bias. I often see affinity bias manifest itself in recruitment processes. Affinity bias is often reflected by the ‘like hire like’ culture acceptance.

It is human nature to look for what we have in common with other people. When we have things in common we typically develop affinity to that person much quicker and are much more likely to take weight in what they say. Does this make for an objective recruitment or decision making process; I would suggest not.


CO3’s Takeaways on recruiting for Diversity:

  • Assess the current diversity mix within your Board.
  • Challenge your personal bias robustly and be honest. Bias is in most cases not intentional or from a bad place. Be accepting of it and use it. Personal bias tests are widely available through implicit association tests for those really wishing to explore this area.
  • Ensure a standardised selection and appraisal process which focusses purely on skills and value based alignment.
  • Consider your recruitment activities, how do you get your requirement out to as wide and appropriate a market as possible.
  • Test your Job advertisements and application packs. Particularly apt when addressing gender imbalances

Daniel McVicker is the Executive Recruitment Director at CO3, he is passionate about the impact that strong leadership within the Third Sector can play in both ensuring organisations flourish and increasing social cohesion.
If you would like to have an informal chat about diversity within your Board or organisation or indeed are preparing to recruit mindful of diversity, please reach out to him at daniel@co3.bz


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