The Importance of Growing More Inclusive Boards

By Dan Janes, Madden Media

In the wake of the George Floyd tragedy, many of us continue to look at how we can improve ourselves, our organizations, and our communities. We have made social posts in support, attended webinars, ordered books, and had discussions with our teams. Finding ways to take action is sometimes one of the most difficult steps because each action will not individually change a system, but we can find actions that can create steps towards progress.

As one of the most diverse industries in the economy, the travel industry has the ability to be an agent of change. That is why I am proud to join leaders from across the country to take one step forward in building more inclusive boards by looking at the organizations we support and asking them to represent our values. This open letter is just one small step of many for us to take to become a more inclusive industry. We hope you will join us. 

The question should be asked “why the focus on board positions?” The answer is not just to provide metrics to support diversity, as diversity does not mean equity nor inclusion. Research shows inclusive boards outperform those that are not, and they provide a vehicle to growing careers of board members.

In general, Nonprofit Boards of Directors are “stubbornly and overwhelmingly white.” According to BoardSource, 84% of board members are white and 27% do not have a single person of color. Our travel associations, like our industry, are already more diverse compared to other nonprofit boards of directors, yet some boards can do better. 

Looking beyond the benefit of board membership to organizations, board membership also has the ability to improve careers of individuals within organizations. Boards provide a great way for individuals to expand their network and become visible to other organizations. Both individuals and organizations also benefit from the mentorship and professional development that occurs by being on a board. For most of us, our first time working with a board was as a nonprofit board member. We gained skills working on committees, learned the appropriate parliamentary procedures, and we discovered how teams and others approached and overcame challenges. 

Board membership makes individuals better and improves professional credibility. When it comes time for boards to select senior leaders to run DMOs and other organizations, they are going to gravitate towards those that have this experience. Some of the questions that most search committees are going to ask will be akin to “what do you see as best practices between boards and the senior executive team?” or “tell me your experience working with boards.” These questions can separate top contenders to a board or prevent others from even making it to the second round. If we want to build diversity in senior leadership roles across our industry, we need to provide these opportunities to those in underrepresented groups.

Some steps that boards can take to become more inclusive include:

  1. Communicating and measuring diversity objectives and creating a plan of action to achieve these goals.
  2. Reassessing your board’s goals and selection criteria. Changing membership criteria on a board from “the” senior executive of an organization to leadership from an organization can have an immediate impact towards improving diversity.
  3. Establish term limits for your board members and ensure each annual group of board members reflect your values towards diversity.
  4. Protect equity and inclusion by ensuring all board members can be placed on any committee. Reserving an executive committee to past chairs and CEOs creates a two-tiered caste system within boards. 
  5. Ask CEOs for their “rising stars” to participate on the boards. We often think of placing CEOs on boards because of their position and influence, but they are often one of the busiest in the organization. Asking them for someone to support the team gives them the opportunity to both provide a professional development opportunity and helps the organization get a member that will be engaged and focused. 
  6. Recruit from beyond just the network that is currently sitting on your board, but make sure you are still recruiting for skills and not just the “look.”

While these are a few steps, our nonprofit and association boards have some of the best leaders in our industry. We know their ideas will be the ones that can create change for your individual organizations as we all seek to move towards continued, sustained progress.

About the Author

Dan Janes headshot
Dan Janes
Madden Media
Dan is the CEO of Madden Media, a destination marketing agency focused on increasing visitation, travel, and tourism for communities across the country. Madden uses innovative, technology-driven marketing strategies to provide solutions for partners. We know travel is transformative for individuals and communities and our team is proud to impact the growth of communities by creating personalized, immersive marketing strategies that connect people to places. Dan has led multiple companies and sits on both nonprofit boards and those of early-stage technology companies.