6 Ways for Nonprofit Boards to Rock Gender Equity

votes for women on boards Gender equity in nonprofit cultural organizations — and in museums, particularly — is a subject that’s on our minds these days. We’re gathering information, ideas, and pointed declarations from our research and conversations, including what boards of trustees need to do to model and promote gender equity, as well as hold themselves and their staffs accountable to making museum workplaces level playing fields for women and men.

Fact is, the commitment to gender diversity and equity starts at the top.  As with any value system, if organizational leaders don’t walk the talk, who will?  Board leadership must commit to it in their own ranks, not only by sustaining a thoughtful balance among trustees, but by rejecting stereotypes in their appointments of officers and committee chairpeople (that’s right, we still see lots of women filling the role of board secretary and chairing the events, collections and program committees and men filling the role of board treasurer and chairing the finance, strategic planning and building committees). Don’t make gender the automatic default in populating these key roles.  And don’t make it the default in hiring the CEO.

Stereotyping of any type and gender bias need to be addressed head-on.  Never underestimate the need for board candidates and board members to learn about how to serve on a board and how to model your organization’s values. Teach about power (its uses and abuses), the legal and ethical ramifications of bias, and the toll it takes on morale. Take the time to continually educate your board.  This goes for staff leadership, too.

Be mindful of language. Patterns of behavior and language can’t be broken without recognizing them first. Be mindful of how board members use language and whether board discussions and task assignments are gender neutral.

Don’t tolerate stereotyping and gender bias on the part of staff leaders.  A board must ensure that staff leaders are just as accountable for their actions with staff as they are for the financial bottom line.  A “star” leader is no match for the corroding influence of her or his bias.  Encourage a culture of transparency, whistleblower protection, and swift action.

Staff need to learn how to deal with boards or board members who are out-of-bounds.  From intentional action to the casual remark, boards can support staff with training, policies, and systems of accountability that include discipline. Model healthy board-staff relationship-building.  This is about respect. Period.

Finally, you don’t have to be on the executive or personnel committees to be on the lookout outside the field for ideas, information, and solutions that could be adopted or adapted by your board, staff leadership and/or the HR department.


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