“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

– Vernā Myers, diversity and inclusion expert

Vernā Myers[1] made the statement above after she told the story about Harvard Law School admitting its first female law students in 1953. The students quickly learned that, although they had been admitted, there were no female bathrooms in the building. They finally had been invited to attend the law school, an incredible achievement, but it appeared their presence was not wholly anticipated, or perhaps appreciated. Eventually, a bathroom for the female students was constructed in the basement of the building in a janitor’s closet[2].

Myers told this story because she strongly believes that it is not enough to want diversity, but that we also need to be willing to embrace diverse perspectives and identities. She believes that overcoming prejudice starts with identifying our unconscious biases and trying to welcome differences and think more inclusively[3].

While many people who provide leadership to organizations in the not-for-profit sector may agree with this statement and want to build practices that lead to more inclusive governance and organizations, it is not always easy to know where to start and how to assess or implement practices that encourage the development of an inclusive culture.

Why inclusive governance?

Successful organizations around the world recognize that diversity and inclusion:

  • spur innovation
  • increase productivity
  • create a healthy, respectful workplace

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion as organizational values can lead to positive outcomes. Studies have shown that a diverse board can foster  innovation because of the unique perspectives the members bring that shape, blend, and influence how to advance the organization’s mission and solve problems[4]. Diverse boards also are more likely to effectively serve their communities and constituencies because diverse membership more likely reflects their needs and concerns[5].

Creativity and innovation will not automatically emerge because you have people on your governance board who represent diverse identities. This potential will not be realized unless there is a culture of inclusion on your governance board where different experiences, ideas and perspectives are welcomed.

In our 2011 Diversity in Governance Toolkit, we discussed both the importance and value of creating boards that represent our increasingly diverse communities and workplaces. This Building Inclusive Governance toolkit takes that conversation one step further. Once you have increased the diversity on your board and in the leadership of your organization, how do you begin to build a culture of inclusion?

There is no simple answer to this question, but this important issue deserves time and creative energy. The purpose of this toolkit is to help you begin the conversation with your board and senior leadership by providing some strategies and resources to support you.


  1. Vernā Myers is the founder and president of Vernā Myers Consulting Group. She presented a TED Talk on Overcoming Bias
  2. Cho, Janet, H. (May 25, 2016). "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance," Vernā Myers tells Cleveland Bar. Retrieved from:
  3. Cho (2016)
  4. National Council of Non-Profits (n.d). Why diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for nonprofits. Retrieved from National Council of Non-Profits
  5. Russell Reynolds Associates (n.d.). Different Is Better: Why Diversity Matters in the Boardroom. Retrieved from Russell Reynolds Associates


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