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May 23, 2023

Spotlight on inclusive boards: Fresh ways to think about board renewal

By Shona McGlashan, Principal, McGlashan Consulting

If you’ve read my previous articles on the why of board inclusion and how to run inclusive board meetings, you may now be wondering how to reflect those diverse perspectives and lived experiences in your board composition. Here are some innovative approaches to board recruitment and renewal that prioritize inclusion.

Help people see themselves in the role

I serve on two not-for-profit boards – or, as they are starting to be called, social profit boards. During our most recent rounds of board recruitment, we knew we wanted to prioritize new perspectives and add to our board’s skills. Our recruitment call to action began with an explicit statement that new board members did not need previous governance experience, removing one of the big barriers to board service. We highlighted the need for skills, life experience, and commitment to the organization’s mission, as well as personal characteristics like critical thinking, collaboration and clear communication.

Because it’s not obvious to everybody what boards do or why they might want to join one, we also talked about the contributions board members could expect to make.

In both cases, we saw a wide range of interested – and interesting! – potential candidates respond to our calls, including people who might not have previously thought of themselves in the role. Opening up the recruitment process in this way yielded tangible results.

Extend your reach

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” – Jessie Potter

Governance and Nominations Committees are realizing that using their own networks to find new directors is no longer adequate. If your board has a recruitment budget and uses a director search firm, be clear that you expect to see a diverse selection of candidates presented during your next search. John Jennings, ICD B.C. Chapter Executive, says, “Board recruitment conversations are no longer just about filling gaps in the traditional skills matrix. It’s incumbent on recruiters to help boards widen their perspectives – and consider candidates who bring unique competencies and insights.” 

If you’re a smaller organization and don’t have the resources to engage a professional recruiter, expand your recruitment reach by advertising board vacancies with relevant local community groups, as well as national organizations like the ICD Directors Register.


Your board can make a meaningful commitment to leadership diversity by signing up for the Government of Canada’s 50-30 challenge, which invites organizations to aspire to gender parity on boards and senior management, and significant representation of members of other equity-deserving groups.

Some organizations are going further: Vancouver’s Brightside Community Homes Foundation has revised its bylaws to embed board diversity commitments, including stating there will be no more than 60 per cent representation on the board of a single gender or race, and there will always be representation from equity-seeking, LGBTQ+, disability or otherwise underrepresented groups. Additionally, one board seat is reserved for a person of Indigenous background because, as a land-based organization operating on unceded Indigenous territory, Brightside believes their table cannot be considered complete unless at least one Indigenous voice is represented. 

William Azaroff, Brightside’s CEO, says, “Once we had established how committed we were to diversity among our leadership, and how critical it is to us in fulfilling our mission, it made perfect sense to enshrine it into our governing documents. We’re proud of where we are today, and we know there is always room to push for more.”


Adding directors new to board work will shake up the status quo and introduce fresh insights to your governance practices. It’s crucial to set those directors up for success with a board orientation program that gives them the information, support and confidence to contribute in the boardroom.

Think about pairing new directors up with a board buddy, linking them with an external board coach, and offering access to the many educational opportunities for new directors (including the ICD-Rotman Governance Essentials Program).

Assess how you’re doing

According to Professor Lisa Nishii of Cornell University, a specialist in inclusive organizations, we can ask three key questions to gauge an organization’s inclusiveness: do people feel welcome, do their ideas matter, and do they feel they belong?

To ensure that your board fosters a culture of inclusivity, why not pose these questions to your directors during your next evaluation? And don't stop there – ask them what would help them feel even more included and valued as members of your organization’s leadership.
Shona McGlashan is a Fellow of the Chartered Governance Institute. As principal at McGlashan Consulting, she advises organizations, boards and leadership teams on corporate governance, EDI and workplace wellness. She lives and works on the the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú 7mesh (Squamish), and Səl ̓ ı́ lwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.