4.4 Incorporate Inclusive Practices

In this section of the toolkit, we suggest ways to move beyond diverse representation on your board and to focus on seven groups of people who often face barriers to inclusion: women, racialized communities, persons with (dis)abilities, Indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ2I+ [1] community, youth, and people with lower incomes. For each of these groups, we outline some practical strategies to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment, which will contribute to creating a culture of inclusion within your board.

As a not-for-profit board, it is important to include people who have lived experience related to your organization’s specific mandate. Some of the diverse groups listed above may have lived experience that connects directly to your mandate. In other cases, you may decide to seek representation from people with lived experiences that more closely reflect the specific work of your organization.

Go beyond token representation

We have discussed the issue of tokenism and the role that it can play in well-intentioned diversity efforts. As you think about creating a culture of inclusion on your board, there are a number of actions you can take to go beyond tokenism.

Practices to build a stronger and more inclusive community

  • Get to know your board members beyond the meetings. When people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, they are more engaged. If you are the Board Chair, make a deliberate effort to meet with board members to find out what interests them, and connect them to the work and life of the organization. This is a great start to community-building.

  • Assign new board members a “board buddy” to serve as a mentor for the first few meetings. Mentors can offer new members a ride to the meeting, greet them at the door, and sit next to them. This can make a big difference to create positive “first impressions.”[2]
  • Host a special gathering that is purely social. This will create opportunities for board members to forge personal connections and foster trust and respect.
  • Ensure that all board members are given the information, the access and the encouragement that they need to be actively involved in critical decision-making processes[3]. Not every board member will come to the governance board with the same level of experience. Some board members may not feel that they have the right to be actively involved in critical decision-making processes. There also may be language barriers or a disability that prevent them from active participation. To ensure a culture of inclusion, it is important to support each board member with whatever they need, whether it is information, accessibility support or encouragement.
  • Use accessible, inclusive language that acknowledges that not everyone has the same background. Be aware of different English language levels, educational backgrounds, cultural backgrounds and age levels.
  • Do not assume that board members have the same knowledge base. People’s diverse knowledge and experiences are at the heart of diversity. When we assume that everyone on the board grew up in the same neighbourhood, had the same educational background, and understands the same cultural references, this can isolate those who do not share that knowledge base or cultural memory, and can silence some voices around the table.
  • Plan meeting times with religious and cultural holidays in mind. Ensure that meeting times do not conflict with religious and cultural holidays that are celebrated by the religions and cultures represented on the board.
  • Recognize that there are different cultural and religious seasons when planning meetings. For example, Ramadan in the Islamic calendar may impact the participation of some members.
  • If food is served at meetings, respect dietary restrictions. For example, you may have members who eat food that is halal, kosher, vegan or vegetarian.
  • Respect board members’ family responsibilities when scheduling board and committee meetings.

  1. For the purposes of this toolkit, we have chosen to use the term LGBTQ2I+ to represent this group since it is the term used by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
  2. Adapted from National Council of Non-Profits (n.d.). Board Engagement. Retrieved from National Council of Non-Profits
  3. Cornelius, M. (February 20, 2015). Does Your Board Foster Inclusivity? Retrieved from CompassPoint.


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