Board Diversity – Representing the Populations You Serve

By Marcela Garcia, Associate Director of Governance & Board Leadership

I have sat around many board tables—through my work serving on non-profit boards as well as an adviser—analyzing systems, structures, and culture and how these affect organizational operations. Through my observations and my lived experience, the lack of diversity of folks around those tables is still alarming—whether that is a metric that looks at race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or expertise. However, this is not new information since not much of a dent has been made to change this in the last decade. We know that board diversity is lagging in almost every sector, non-profit and corporate. Within the non-profit sector 86% of nonprofit board members nationwide are White.

Diversity in the Boardroom

With 30 years since the court-ordered school desegregation was implemented in Milwaukee, students of color composed 86.4% of the 2013-2014 student enrollment within our public school district; 93.8% of the enrollment at independent charter schools; and 78% of private school enrollment for the same school year. With student demographics like these, it is only natural to question why the board representation of these institutions do not resemble the populations they serve. The education system in my city continues to be inequitable for countless kids and youth. Especially for those kids living at or below the poverty level, and for brown and black kids. The socioeconomic disparities in Milwaukee are very visible. As a result, the challenges with board service can be very intimidating, and at times, uncomfortable.

Here are four tips to keep in mind as you are reflecting on your board service, or on your interest to get involved.

1.       The savior mentality is dangerous. As leaders, we not only have to acknowledge our privilege, but learn how to challenge it within ourselves and to others. Our function as a board member is not to “save” the communities in which we work. Marginalized communities are not empty vessels that are waiting for your pouring—stop flattering yourself.

2.       Representation is not enough. Just because a board is tracking the progress of the numbers (number of women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGTBQ, under 30 years old, etc.) on the board does not mean that it is addressing gaps within its structure, nor creating a culture that embraces diversity as an organizational value. Keep in mind that bringing diverse leadership on board will not single-handedly empower the marginalized. It’s not just about the numbers, people!

3.       Finding leadership for your board is not like ordering a hamburger. “I’ll take a young Black or Latino, with a side of some board service.” Doesn’t that just sound awful? Remember that the characteristics that contribute to diversity can be either visible or invisible. When considering new board members, it is important to aim to build bridges that connect your organization to networks that perhaps have not before been built or crossed. Being intentional and keeping the future needs of your organization in mind while considering perspective board members is important.

4.       If it’s not in the organization fabric, it will not be sustainable. The value of what diversity brings to an organization has to be operative and integrated into the fabric of the organization. Institutional buy-in has to happen for long-term sustainability. This is not the responsibility of one person in the organization, nor that of a committee. There has to be a plan to insure that this diverse leadership is involved, respected, valued, and connected to the mission of the organization.

As the second year of Board Corps comes to an end, I am very hopeful that PAVE’s Board Corps Program will continue to make a difference in the way boards are built and sustained. Since 25% of our program applicants self-identified as a racial/ethnic minority, 51% as women, and 64% as 40 years and younger, I am confident that change will begin to be felt and seen across many more board tables in Milwaukee.


Lessons from the Corporation – 3 Compelling Reasons Why It Pays to Have Women on Your Board

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Women on Boards of Directors

We all instinctively know it’s better to have a board that’s gender-diverse. But why? At the recent BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., Dr. Margaret Reid from the University of Arkansas examined research from for-profit companies that showed why having the female perspective is not just politically correct, but also makes good business sense.

  • Women directors mean more profits – In a study on corporate performance and women’s representation on boards of directors (Carter and Wagner, Catalyst – 2004-2008), companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed those with zero women by 84%. Another study found that having at least one woman on a board decreases bankruptcy by a full 20% (Wilson and Atlantar, 2009).
  • Having women on boards leads to more ethical behavior – Companies with more women on their boards see better corporate governance and ethical behavior (Franke, 1997). It isn’t so much that women are necessarily more honest, but they tend to ask more questions, thus uncovering issues that boards should be addressing.
  • It never pays to marginalize half the population – Corporations have realized that not having females represented on their boards leads to losing a critical opinion and voice. If women feel shut out from decision-making, they are less likely to support an organization that doesn’t value a feminine perspective.

How does the business case parallel schools? While businesses may lose perspective on their products and services without women involved at a high level, schools can miss out on important insight on everything from parent involvement to fundraising strategy to marketing ideas. They also may not be hearing all of those hard-hitting questions women are likely to pose.

Unfortunately, businesses aren’t paying enough attention to the research. Recent statistics show that right here in our state, only 15.5% of board seats in Wisconsin’s top 50 companies are held by women. The Greater Milwaukee Committee is joining forces with Milwaukee Women Inc. in their goal to increase that number substantially.

PAVE recognized early on that it was important to have diverse boards governing schools. Our Board Corps is far ahead of the curve when it comes to recruiting women to serve on school boards. 50% of PAVE’s Board Corps members are female and will be productively adding their insight and perspective to our Partner Schools in the coming years. Lessons definitely learned!

Arts Education Isn’t an “Extra” Curricular

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Imagination is one of the most powerful elements we can possess. Whether it is applied to the way we envision initiatives, the way we communicate — the arrangement of words, the organization of sounds — or the way we interact with the intentional creation of “the new.” In a time when resources are limited, innovation and creativity are required in all sectors, nonprofit and for-profit alike.

As someone who has been a part of visual and performing arts programs since grade-school, I have lived through the transformational experiences that these school clubs, art classes, or neighborhood art centers can offer children—especially during a critical time of identity formation. Interpreting the world around us provides the platform for reflexivity (reflection upon what is happening in terms of one’s own values and interests), which enhances critical thinking skills, cognitive ability, and verbal skills. It has also been noted that motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork are also enriched through involvement in the arts.

St. Joan Antida Student in Art Class

However, there is a problem. The arts education landscape across the United States has been in steady decline since the 1970’s. With decreasing school budgets and an added focus on state mandated testing, arts programs are not viewed as essential and the options for delivering art programs have become restricted.

In April of this year, the Herzfeld Foundation commissioned the Public Policy Forum to conduct exploratory research on how public and private resources are uniting to create systems that grow arts education and its delivery. The disproportion of arts accessibility is real, and this accessibility very much depends on the school a child attends, the neighborhood in which he/she lives and his/her family’s socio-economic status. These facts are very troubling to me and should be for our entire community.

As a practicing written and visual arts artist, I am an arts advocate who is interested in the structure, governance, and accountability of organizations that are developing solutions to this dilemma. I recently accepted a Mayoral appointment to the Milwaukee Arts Board, and currently serve on the board of Artist Working in Education. These opportunities have given me an insider’s look into the challenges and opportunities for collaborations between business and civic leaders, schools, arts organizations, artists, funders, and parents.

PAVE has coordinated long-term partnerships with community and arts organizations such as First Stage and the Milwaukee Art Museum. As a liaison that facilitates learning and enrichment offerings for interested Partner Schools, PAVE has seen remarkable programs within these collaborations. Take Lutheran Specials School & Education Services (LSSES) as an example.

In partnership with WE Energies and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), we distributed funds that supported LSSES’ visionary leadership, which developed a unique experiential multi-sensory curriculum (MOSAICS) that would open new methods for engaging children who have difficulty learning through traditional methods. Over a three-year period, LSSES incorporated kinesthetic arts (movement), visual arts, and performing arts (theatrical and musical) into the core curriculum. As the program has unfolded, students have received the opportunity to serve as “docents,” unveil their artwork to the community, and to engage in visual storytelling—check out Awesome Kids; Awesome Art 2 and watch their digital stories!

Lutheran Special School Arts Program

It is in the interest of society that we enhance the quality, the availability, and access to arts education in Milwaukee through innovative and collaborative approaches. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” It is time that we let our imaginations roam if we expect to get improved results for the children of Milwaukee.

How has your involvement in the arts impacted your education and/or career? Have you seen the arts positively influence a child? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

(P.S. The PAVE Team spent two days last week attending the BoardSource Leadership Forum. We’re compiling our notes and will be bringing you some awesome content on the blog over the next few weeks.)