Good Governance: Build Consensus on Diversity in the Boardroom

Business team putting their hands on top of one another
Gisèle Manole Photo
Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Consultant
Quantum Governance L3C

3 minutes

There’s a distinction between saying diversity is important and doing something about it.

In the hundreds and hundreds of interviews we conduct each year with credit union directors and senior management, we always probe the question, “What does the board of the future look like for your credit union?”

We are encouraged to hear that directors’ ultimate wish list for themselves includes such attributes as strategic thinkers, team players, credit union movement-devotees and mission-driven members ... all good things. We also hear things like, “We need to be more diverse,” which is also great. But when we ask these leaders to expand on how they define “more diverse” we get a lot of different answers.

To some directors, diversity is including visible minorities. To others, it’s adding a new professional expertise or geographic region. What is curious however is that directors on the same board will often share vastly different understandings of what it means to be “more diverse.”

The State of Credit Union Governance 2020 reported that respondents listed demographic diversity as their No. 1 priority (53%) when recruiting new board members. However, when that same group of respondents was asked what they value most in the boardroom, demographic diversity slipped to No. 6 (31%).

The forthcoming State of Credit Union Governance 2021 report begins to contemplate this disconnect between making diversity a priority when recruiting new board members and actually valuing diversity in the boardroom. It might appear that directors think that they should prioritize diversity but perhaps are not all on the same page about what diversity really means and how much they truly value it. Quantum Governance lead adjunct consultant and diversity, equity and inclusion expert Vernetta Walker says, “If board members cannot articulate why diversity matters for their credit union or their vision of how the credit union will be different when the board and staff are more diverse, then there is more work to be done.”

It may very well be that boards have not developed consensus on what diversity means to them as a governing body. Is it enough for boards to “look more like their members”? What is the real value of just “looking the part”?

The path to diversity is indeed much deeper and more meaningful than that. True diversity requires that we think like our members, understand like our members and have shared experiences to draw on when making decisions about the credit union’s future. There is tremendous value in doing more than just knowing about the social and cultural challenges your members face. What are the unique values and practices that characterize the communities you serve ... such as multi-generational living, military service, early-adoption of technology or a sophisticated and tech-savvy select employee group? An infinite number of variables impacts how your leadership might need to diversify.  

We will often remark to clients that conversations about diversity are, in fact, courageous. It is not an overstatement. We have found—and can relate to—the notion that no one wants to “say the wrong thing.” This is why trust is so essential to good governance. First, there has to be trust in the boardroom for authentic diversity to emerge.

The special report, COVID-19 and DEI: Revolution & Evolution in the Credit Union Community, found that higher rates of board renewal are associated with a greater number of directors from under-represented groups. So perhaps one of the most meaningful contexts in which to frame the DEI discussion at your credit union is around establishing best or new practices for board recruitment and renewal.

“There is a distinction between saying diversity is important to you or your institution and then doing something about it,” said Ms. Walker. “I think that leaders will largely agree that diversity is important, but far too many lack a real understanding of the non-inclusivity of their current board recruitment practices. Often leaders also lack the necessary momentum behind making a plan to get there.”

How do you build that momentum? Begin by building consensus on your board’s need for diversity and what that diversity looks like for your organization, then ensure that there is alignment between the board members and the CEO in how you will build a diverse board and staff to shape your credit union’s future.

Gisele Manole is the director of communications and a consultant with Quantum Governance. She has interviewed hundreds of credit union leaders and consulted on both governance and strategic planning assessments while evolving Quantum’s successful retreat experience into a transformational online experience.  
Quantum Governance provides credit unions, corporations, nonprofits, associations and governmental entities with strategic, cost-effective governance, ethics and management consulting, facilitation and evaluation. With more than 40% of Quantum Governance’s clients representing credit unions, the organization fields more engagements in the credit union community than in any other. The organization is a CUES strategic partner in the field of governance, and home to more strategic governance experience than any other practice in the country. The firm is a unique L3C organization that integrates the best elements of both the for- and non-profit communities into one practice. It is a low-profit, limited-liability service organization dedicated to the public good.

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