As a new credit union director nine years ago, I hadn’t thought very much about diversity of thought. It took time and experience for me to understand how diversity of thought can help or hinder board decision making. And it took time and experience for me to understand the diversity of thought that I bring to the board table.
My first thoughts about board diversity was gender. Is there representation of gender diversity on the board? Next was age, were different age demographics represented at the table? Next came visible minorities, do we have diversity of cultures? But the bigger questions for me was how can this diversity improve board performance and how can I contribute? How can a gray haired, male Caucasian director offer diversity when I look around and see so many directors like myself in the credit union system.
In 2018 Stabilization Central in B.C. together with CCUA (Canadian Credit Union Association) offered a program to help define the DNA of a credit union director. This was built around a company doing in-depth personality testing. Individual tests were given directors and then these results were combined for their boards. It was a little scary to see one’s own test results displayed on a graph with other fellow directors. Displayed were graphs broken down into several categories like entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence. And averages of the boards were compared to other boards across Canada.
I became very familiar with this program because I was on two boards and one merger steering committee at this time. So I had the benefit of this program three different ways. This program was also offered on three levels with the highest level including an hours individual consultation for personal growth.
Graphing the results was not intending for directors to compare one director to the other for competition. There was no good or bad position on the graph. The position on the graph described how we react to situations dependent on our personalities. What situations we are comfortable with, and the ones we are not comfortable with. The program highlighted the different thinking patterns each of us have and how when combined on a board this may effect discussions and decisions. I found it a very helpful way to map out diversity of thought. It helped me understand why some people I find myself agreeing with easily, and others I could not understand their reasoning.
Each of us on the graphs may have been an outlier on one or more categories. This was a good thing as it could add diversity when making a decisions. For myself where I was an outlier is where I found I could add thought diversity to a board conversation. As a board or committee chair leading a discussion, this added knowledge of the people I am working with can help me facilitate a more meaningful conversation. I am using this director DNA program to help illustrate the importance of diversity of thought. Having this information from this program was helpful at that time. But the important learning for me was to better understand what my individual strengths are and to look closely to discover what individual strengths others have.
Life Experiences and Diversity of Thought
With studying diversity of thought and one’s owns thought processes I have become much more comfortable knowing my strengths and what I have to offer with board diversity. I may look like a lot of the other directors seated around the board room table. But I can add diversity with my different life experiences.
My strengths are often what I am not. I am not a professional, I do not have a post secondary education, I am not a subject matter expert. I have a modest lifestyle, I do not have secure employment or a company pension.
I have been self-employed all of my working life. I have only lived in small communities, Grand Forks is the largest. I have a passion and desire to be a life long learner. I am comfortable with change and I am excited by changing technologies and processes. My work is my life and life is my work.
I am comfortable as a leader, I am comfortable with conflict resolution. I like working with people. I like meeting and getting to know people. I like learning from others experiences. And most importantly I am comfortable asking questions and providing input to discussions.
Diversity for a High Achieving Board
Most directors will agree that board diversity is important for a high achieving board. My experience has demonstrated to me that boards need more than gender, age and culture diversity. Different life experiences need to be part of the diversity equation. A poor example would be a board comprised of equal male and female, a range of age and cultures but all are accountants. No offence intended to the accountants reading this, but my guess would be that this would not be a representative of a diverse high functioning board.
Let me know what you think, leave a comment please.