With the exception of schools that primarily serve people of color, most theological school boards do not reflect the diversity present in their schools. Many schools have made great strides in serving their diverse student populations by hiring faculty and adjusting their curriculum to better serve a variety of student experiences. However, this diversity has not made its way into the makeup of school boards.
A 2010 In Trust article by Jon Hooten, titled “Is Board Diversity Important?,” addressed this issue, delving into why diverse boards are important. Hooten established that for theological school boards, diversity isn’t just an issue of ideology; rather, he wrote, board diversity has practical effects on the board and the school overall. Bringing on board members of different ethnicities, genders, denominations, socioeconomic statuses, and occupations creates a larger spectrum of perspectives. Boards can benefit greatly from this array of voices and experiences.
On the other hand, decision making can be challenging when there are a number of dissenting voices. However, this difference of opinion can be beneficial for challenging the status quo.
To illustrate the real-world implications of board diversity, Hooten highlighted the experiences of Diane Ashley, who was at the time chair of the New York Theological Seminary board. As chair, Ashley made it a priority to bring on a diversity of people and voices, including people of different ethnic backgrounds and denominations. For her, “the clear business value of taking diversity and inclusion seriously is coupled with the requirement of the Great Commission to reach all people.”
This “clear business value” is further demonstrated in a series of case studies presented in Hooten’s article. These studies highlighted the experiences of three board members from different schools – one African American, one Hispanic, and one female – who were invited to their boards in part for their experience as minorities. The boards of each of these schools benefited from the unique knowledge and voice that these board members contributed.
Finally, Hooten provided suggestions for boards that intend to become more diverse: choosing newcomers carefully based on personality and experience and encouraging new members to feel free to express disagreement. While incorporating new voices into an existing group can always be a challenge, allowing for various perspectives can lead to a much stronger board.
Board members – has your board made strides to incorporate diverse voices? What are the results?
Read Hooten's full article on board diversity.
Image Credit: Business Communication Duplicate model