I joined my first board in around 1989 - 30 years ago - as a trustee of a small contemporary dance company called Extemporary Dance (which no longer exists). I was recruited by ‘word of mouth’, where one of the trustees (all male and pale) was a friend who told the Chairman he thought I would be a good thing.
There was no recruitment process, no induction and no training.
I was the only woman on the board and the only woman of colour. ‘I knew nothing’ about the role or the legal responsibilities of a trustee and signed up for a trustee training course at the Templeton Institute.
‘Diversity’ was never mentioned or on the agenda. Since then I have sat on or Chaired numerous boards, mainly in the field of arts, human rights and international development, including English National Opera, Contemporary Dance Trust, Index on Censorship, Free Word, the Theatre Museum, Tate Members and of course Arts Council England. For much of that time I’ve been in the minority as a woman (less true now), and usually been the only woman of colour. Change isn’t happening fast enough.
I’ve always tried to speak out at meetings and consistently argue the case for board diversity and its advantages: organisations are happier places to work and perform better. Good organisations embrace diversity throughout the organisation, top down and bottom up. Diversity and inclusion are central to an organisation's ability to attract, recruit and retain the best talent.
But I prefer to talk about ‘inclusion’ or ‘diversity and inclusion’. ‘Diversity’ has been overused in the last few years and is often seen as being only about race or gender, or even worse, about ticking boxes to please funders.
My dream board would be a dynamic, high functioning board, that should consist of a group of men and women, ideally in equal numbers, who between them have a wide range of skills and talents… people who are all passionate about the work of the organisation they lead and represent, and who don’t all speak with one voice.