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Leverage Advantages in Board Dynamics

leadership transition Nov 15, 2023

- By Sophie Pinkoski

Board members have advantages from our life, careers, and experience. As we come together in our board work, how are we using them to make positive change?

In a boardroom, those who have advantages can really help create a more welcoming and inclusive environment and elevate the performance of the board.

This is good for everyone because it brings different ideas and ways of thinking to the table, leading to better decision-making and more creative solutions.

In today's world such advantages get called "privilege" and over the past few years that term became associated with great judgment and shaming individuals. Let's set aside the terminology and stigma and explore how to leverage the positive impact leaders can make. What advantages do you have that could benefit others? These could be related to your economic situation, education, heritage, gender, location, and other unique access or skills. 

The scale of impact that you have changes with the circumstances - who are you trying to influence and what do they best respond to?

The good news is that advantages can be shared. How can you use your advantages to make your board more inclusive, effective, and high performing?

Give others the space to speak up and be heard –– If you find yourself or others contributing the most to board discussions, actively share the spotlight with someone less likely to speak up.

Acknowledge and give others credit for their good ideas to ensure they are being recognized.

Individuals who come from specific groups, backgrounds, or personalities may be less likely to share their ideas, opinions, concerns, and perspectives. When this happens unconscious biases towards others can lead to missed opportunities and negative perceptions of the inclusivity of the board. This separation can leave insightful and talented people which can leave certain people reluctant to contribute, regardless of how invaluable their perspective is to the board.

Inviting all board members to share their thoughts directly puts them at ease and normalizes shifting the conversation to include as many voices on the board as possible.

Challenge the selection process for new recruits–– Within the last few years, organizations have started prioritizing DEI within their board recruitment process, but it’s not enough to bring diverse members into the fold.

Your board’s culture can give them enough psychological safety to share the unique skills and perspectives the board needs in the first place.

Ask questions to listen and grow from other perspectives outside your own–– Giving others the space to share their perspectives means actively listening to what they have to say. Remember, their experience won’t be the same as yours, so when they discuss their lived experience, believe them and be genuinely interested in learning more. 

If everyone’s perspective is valued within your board, everyone is able to bring their best skills and ideas to the table.

The first big step you can make in promoting an inclusive board culture is acknowledging your own advantages. Your advantages are tools to be used to empower others.

Because individual advantages will always be there whether we acknowledge it or not, it’s better to be aware of them than to ignore them, and leave them unchecked. 

You can use your advantage to create an inclusive board culture that removes significant barriers to your directors and facilitates an environment where they can be their most authentic selves and most effectively apply their skills to making your organization’s mission, vision, and goals a reality.


Further Reading:

What’s Privilege? How to Navigate it, Inclusive Employers

How to Navigate Power and Privilege in the Workplace, Career Contessa

Privilege and Power in the Workplace, Digital Frontiers Institute

Talk About Privilege at Work, Harvard Business Review

How to Use Your Privilege to Even the Playing Field, Harvard Business Review

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