Building a diverse board

Building a diverse board is a critical part of achieving the balance between core professional skills and broader strategic experience. Increasing non-executive diversity is a key priority for AIM Associate Supplier, Minerva. Ben Tucker, Partner at Minerva, explains how they can help you improve the diversity of your trustees.

We all recognise the contribution that excellent trustees make in the cultural sector – they help executives develop and deliver strategy, they can be a vital support during difficult and challenging times, they bring relationships and expertise and often a critical piece of new thinking that can unlock puzzling situations.

At the other extreme, we also know the flipside and have seen boards struggle with their remit, become less focused, extremely risk-averse and/or confrontational in their approach.

In the context of a volunteer model of governance, there can also be challenges around engagement and resourcing: sometimes executives feel so absorbed in producing papers for committees and boards that they wish they had a little more time for the actual day-job, and on the other hand, trustees can worry about their responsibilities in a context where regulation is perplexing and burdensome and finances are extremely tight.

Building a diverse board is a critical part of achieving this balance.   A broad range of skillsets and perspectives is vital.   Increasingly, we see a need to balance out core professional skills (legal, HR etc..) with broader strategic, organizational growth and income generation experience.    In the current world, every museum and gallery needs to think about being nimble and balance their core mission with income generation, and it doesn’t help for boards to become too back-officey in their thinking. Managing risk and holding the leaders accountable should be a natural part of the primary role, which is to support the executive team in developing and delivering strategy.

When we talk about diversity, we tend to think in terms of well-recognised protected characteristics. A huge amount of work has been done ensuring on gender balance across boards in the sector over the years, and it is far less common to see a board meeting that brings together the retired male mafia from the local area. Similarly, there are huge efforts to broaden ethnic diversity and bring to the table people from global majority backgrounds.  This is of course much easier for organisations located in regions of the country which have ethnically diverse populations, but it is an aspect that many of our clients in the cultural sector are seeking to improve. And there are of course other aspects of diversity, including disability, age and sexuality, all of which are critical elements in the lived experience of audiences, and boards benefit from bringing this richness of voices into their discussions. One of the biggest challenges we see is building the pipeline of people from under-represented backgrounds who are confident and ready to contribute at governance level.

We run a scheme called Board Prospects which seeks to build this pipeline. In our programme, participants who either have a protected characteristic or who are younger, serve as shadow board members for a year or two with an organisation, participating fully in committees and board meetings as appropriate, and receiving mentoring from within the board as well as participating in CPD activities. Three times a year we bring together participants for online sessions where they hear from experts on matters such as charity finance or how best to contribute. Participating organisations are drawn from the cultural, educational and social impact sectors, and we are particularly keen to increase the numbers of organisations participating from the cultural sector.  The scheme is provided pro-bono as part of our commitment to improving diversity in the sectors we serve.

We are also keen to improve the scheme all the time, and to learn from boards who are successfully building diversity.

Find out more about how Minerva could support your board recruitment. Click here to visit the Minerva website>>

Contact Ben Tucker on 07908 714154 or