Boosting diversity in non-profit boardrooms

Hamilton Spectator

Minority communities in Hamilton have grown over the past several decades, but that growth hasn’t been seen in boardrooms of non-profit and government agencies.

One new program is looking to change that. DiverseCity onBoard is an agency aiming to train and match visible minorities and under-represented communities with non-profit boards.

Two weeks ago, the program started looking for recruits to fill a roster for leadership seminars, networking events, governance training and generally teaching how to effectively participate as board members.

But the official launch will be in September.

“The program finds and screens potential board members in the communities who are qualified and gives them governance training,” said Yohana Otite, program manager of DiverseCity onBoard Hamilton.

Otite says many members of minority communities want to join boards, but they just don’t know how.

Likewise, non-profits want to make their boards more diverse to get a wider net of perspectives, but they don’t know where to find appropriate people, she adds.

“So we want to be the middle organization that makes those connections and makes it a reality for them (non-profits).”

Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), a non-profit that strives for more civic participation among Hamiltonians, is a local community partner with DiverseCity.

Prospective candidates will need to submit resumés and have a job interview with staff to be added to DiverseCity’s roster.

“Hamilton is a city rich in diversity so it becomes a question of creating pathways to bring that top talent into the boardroom,” said Milé Komlen, board chair for HCCI.

Bumping up minority representation in boardrooms means non-profits can better serve minority communities, Komlen added.

DiverseCity onBoard is a spinoff of a smaller program that started in 2007 in Toronto within the Maytree Foundation and relocated to Ryerson University last year.

The agency is in the process of determining how under-represented minorities are in Hamilton non-profit and government boardrooms.

In Toronto, roughly 1,500 people have applied for the program. Of those, 630 landed positions with non-profits, signalling the demand for the initiative.

“This is the Toronto success we want to replicate,” said Ratna Omidvar, director ofGlobal Diversity Exchange at Ryerson, which houses the DiverseCity onBoard office in Toronto.

In 2012, Stacey Berry went through DiverseCity onBoard’s mentoring in Toronto and, since April, began sitting on the Toronto Board of Health. For the past 10 years, Berry, an African-Canadian, has been heavily involved in community service and non-profits.

She says the problem is that interested members of minority groups don’t always have access and networking opportunities to eventually end up in a non-profit boardroom.

“I think it has a lot to do with a lack of training and understanding how boards work, how to work for one, and how they’re structured, as well as systemic barriers” Berry said. “DiverseCity onBoard bridges that gap. This gives you that mentorship.”

In addition to Hamilton, DiverseCity onBoard will begin working with local community partners in Ottawa, Montreal and London. A national expansion is also starting up in cities such as Vancouver and Calgary.

 

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