Stones of many colors

We've written about diversity several times on this blog and in In Trust magazine. Setting aside the thorny ideological and religious perspectives that are inherent in the topic, we believe that a diversity of opinions and experiences on a governing board makes practical sense: It brings new ideas and wisdom to the table from a growing world beyond the majority culture.

But diversification isn't easy. And it certainly isn't efficient.

Those who think and write about diversity know well that a diverse group of people can make for messy meetings and feelings of insecurity and uncertainty -- among those in the "majority" as well as those in the "minority." While wrestling with diversity, a board can get bogged down by inaction and ineffectiveness. 

That's one reason why simply diversifying a group is not enough. There must also be meaningful engagement.

A recent blog entry at the New Organizing Institute makes this case clearly. "[I]t turns out that diversity is not just inefficient, it is insufficient," the author says. "Getting a diverse set of bodies into a room is not enough. We also have to find a way to hear out all the voices we've put in our pretty room and make them count for something. Inclusion = diversity + engagement. That is a time-consuming equation."

It takes time, precious time, to govern in a diverse group. Even when we assume certain aspects of identity are shared -- a roomful of Protestant Christians, for example -- we know that those from historically black churches or first-generation immigrant churches may understand ecclesiology, mission, or even the Gospel message very differently than those from the majority culture. Their different understandings have significant effects on how they view the vision and pursue the mission of the seminary that they help govern.

So it takes time -- building relationships, having long conversations, making space for small-group discussions, having meals together -- to understand how a board can live and work. It takes time to get to a point of learning how to deliberate and govern together -- not only coming to grips with the process but in fact doing it well.