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When Politics Knocks, Answer with Mission

By Jeffrey Shields posted 12 days ago

  

CEO Notebook |

Our schools’ missions and values are being put to the test. They should be our guide as we navigate contentious times. 

Jeff Shields head shot
Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Last week, after a long hiatus of in-person meetings, the NBOA Board of Directors and staff leadership met for the purpose of imagining the future of our association, furthering our mission, and advancing its positive impact on member schools across the nation. This gathering served as a key step in our strategic planning process that will chart NBOA’s course, bolstered by data and insights from you, our members and colleagues, gathered via qualitative interviews and the member-needs survey we conducted earlier this year.

Prior to the retreat, all participants were asked to read and consider two pieces related to governance and leadership: “The Best Leaders See Things That Others Don’t. Art Can Help,” from Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review, and “The Inclusive Imperative for Boards,” from Deloitte Insights. Both were valuable, but the second piece particularly resonated with me at this moment. It discusses a board’s responsibilities to support organizational inclusion at a time when nonprofit leaders, including school administrators, face wide-ranging pressures from the current environment and stakeholders.

While the DEI acronym has become widespread, it’s critical to consider its distinct elements — diversity, equity and inclusion — when thinking about effective DEI efforts in our schools. The report homed in on the difference between diversity and inclusion, and provided the following definitions:

Diversity refers to the presence of people who, as a group, have a wide range of characteristics, seen and unseen, which they were born with or have acquired. These characteristics may include their gender identity, race or ethnicity, military or veteran status, LGBTQ+ status, disability status and more.

The main difference between the two, according to this piece, is that diversity is “a state of being and is not itself something that is ‘governed’ [by a board of trustees], while inclusion is a set of behaviors and can be ‘governed.’” The board therefore has a particular role in governing inclusion, while it supports management in developing processes to drive and improve diversity.

Inclusion refers to the practice of making all members of an organization feel welcomed and giving them equal opportunity to connect, belong and grow — to contribute to the organization, advance their skill sets and careers, and feel comfortable and confident being their authentic selves.

The main difference between the two, according to this piece, is that diversity is “a state of being and is not itself something that is ‘governed’ [by a board of trustees], while inclusion is a set of behaviors and can be ‘governed.’” The board therefore has a particular role in governing inclusion, while it supports management in developing processes to drive and improve diversity.

The NBOA Board of Directors currently consists of 20 voting members, the majority of whom are school business leaders, joined by heads of school, association leaders, and valued business partners. It was disheartening to hear from many how the political environment is making effective leadership – and delivering on their school’s mission and core values – extremely difficult in this moment.

School leaders are being confronted by two factions. The first is impatient with the progress of our DE&I efforts, which, after years of statements and rhetoric, have not yet resulted in sufficient change in representation among school leadership, faculty or the student body. As one director put it, “If we move too slowly with this work, our more vulnerable communities remain vulnerable, and they need us the most.” At the same time, another faction, have become wary of the discussions and the allocation of the resources necessary to continue progress.

As we continue into the third school year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage us to remain resolute in our focus on our mission and values. These need not have a conservative or liberal political bent. Regardless of the political leanings of our schools’ communities, our schools strive to be welcoming of people — children and adults alike — who will necessarily bring different strengths and perspectives to the campus. Diverse and inclusive environments will make our students stronger and our communities too — and help school leaders and trustees plan for a better future. This isn’t always easy to communicate and to live out, I know.

This is a unique time within our schools, our nation and the world, but the mission and values that have served us for decades, if not centuries, should serve as our guiding light, rather than the ebbs and flows of our political climate.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.

From Net Assets NOW, October 12, 2021. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

#Leadership #DiversityandInclusion

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