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Governing Boards Survey Finds Diversity, Qualifications Not Mutually Exclusive

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has published a report based on a qualitative survey examining higher education boards’ efforts to expand the diversity of their compositions.

Ellen ChaffeeEllen Chaffee“The value of diverse perspectives for teams and for-profit boards is well-documented, and we recognize that governing boards need new and varied voices to overcome the myriad challenges facing higher education right now,” said Lesley McBain, the association’s director of research. “This scholarship is an important step in the right direction, and I hope it inspires others to examine their diversification efforts and enhance their boards’ abilities.”

Diversifying the Governing Board: An AGB Report found that: 1.) the lack of firmly codified qualifications for board members can lead to misconceptions that limit opportunity, such as thinking women are “too busy” to serve on boards; 2.) diversity and qualifications for board membership are not mutually exclusive; and 3.) minimum giving requirements for board members or unwritten expectations for giving were raised by foundation and institution interviewees alike as a hindrance to diversifying boards.

The report stems from association’s most recent board composition survey, Policies, Practices, and Composition of Governing Boards of Colleges, Universities, and Institutionally Related Foundations 2021. Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and the association delved into the issue through a series of interviews to add insight and contours to quantitative survey data published in 2021. Both surveys found that boards are seeking multiple perspectives based on professional and personal characteristics, but that obstacles persist.

In addition to the survey findings, the report includes guiding questions and recommended actions to help governing boards advance their diversification goals and carry out their responsibilities.

“The unfortunate backlash to equity and inclusion efforts across the country obscures the evidence that diversity of experience—whether racial, ethnic, professional, geographic, or other, such as veteran or alumni status—can be a huge boon to boards trying to forecast the future,” said AGB Interim President and CEO Ellen Chaffee. “I hope the report’s data and recommendations will spark action so that governing boards can pursue their diversity goals and prepare for a rapidly evolving world.”

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