A few organizations, especially in the arts and cultural sectors, are facing an accounting. Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour who have been raising concerns – sometimes for years – are finally getting their message heard. Executives are resigning or are being fired. Board members are taking action, unless they, too, are part of the problem.
Our governance model requires that only the CEO or Executive Director reports to the Board. The Board hired the CEO. They may be friends or social peers. Board members generally trust the CEO to raise issues; if there are no issues, everything must be fine. In large organizations, staff sometimes have a representative who attends Board meetings, and may even be a formal member of the Board.
The willingness or ability of that individual to raise uncomfortable issues is compromised when they could lose their job if their message is heard as insubordinate. So, employees do not share everything they know at the Board. Or, they may have been selected as the staff representative (by the CEO) because of their allegiance.
There are solutions.
Have policies that address hiring at all levels of your organization, from executive through professionals, management, administration and maintenance. Examine all of your Human Resource policies to enable and require management to build a positive, inclusive culture. Policies to identify and redress harassment and discrimination before they fester and escalate.
Report to the Board on a regular basis on actions that are taken under these policies.
Nominate Board members who bring needed skills, connections and resources and who also represent all of your stakeholders, including the broader community. Make representation part of the orientation of all Board members so that everyone knows what is expected of them and their colleagues.
Ensure that every Board agenda includes a health check of the entire organization: turnover, grievances or complaints, or whatever metric is appropriate to your organization. Make sure the discussion focuses on improving systems, not on personalities.
Facilitate discussions at the Board that enable every Member to speak, and all Members to listen and understand. Check in with each other, especially during uncomfortable discussions: some Board members might need time or space to process what they are hearing. Find ways to enable Board members to express unpopular views and hear the responses. Allow everyone to learn. This is may be a time for Board confidentiality as well as solidarity.
Encourage every Board member to participate in every discussion. The Chair must practice Active Listening to ensure that every voice – and every nuance – is heard and understood by everyone. This is simple good practice.