Diversifying the Board Room

Thursday, April 16, 2015 - 14:15

Diversity on nonprofit boards of directors matters. Done intentionally, it leads to greater inclusion and social equity among people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Ask Yvette Chappell-Ingram. She co-founded and runs the African American Board Leadership Institute (AABLI), a project of Community Partners for the last three years.

“Representation on boards by people of color,” Chappell-Ingram says, “is more than just meeting numeric goals. It broadens the range of community experience sitting at the table, making policy, allocating resources, speaking for all views, not just a few.”

AABLI recruits potential African American board members from throughout the region’s business, social sector and civic talent pool. Participants in AABLI’s two-day Board Leadership Program come away steeped in all that board service requires of them, and much more.

A psychological training component explores cultural competencies specific to African Americans, helping prepare future board leaders to “touch where the hot buttons are,” Chappell-Ingram explained. “And we also want them to ask some crucial questions before committing to the responsibilities of board service.”

Virgil Roberts, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment attorney, joined with Chapell-Ingram as co-founder of AABLI, bringing with him the experience of service on numerous powerful, prestigious boards like Los Angeles Education Partnership, California Community Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation. 

“Virgil’s perspective was critical to our early success in getting AABLI off the ground,” notes Chappell-Ingram. “We both saw the need for greater representation on commissions and in organizations making big decisions about people and their diverse communities." Chappell-Ingram, who previously ran the California Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, developed a clear view of what political representation means to society. She understands that social sector leadership representation differs greatly from the power that comes with elective office. But decision-making power, the power to raise and allocate money for nonprofit programs, fits neatly as another part of the social equity puzzle. AABLI was recently singled out in this Nonprofit Quarterly piece on the need for board diversity.

To help the arc of history bend faster toward higher levels of inclusion, AABLI will begin aligning itself with other ethnic-specific board training groups to share insights, develop resources, and build influence.

“We’re growing slowly, building partnerships, developing a first-class alumni base, and figuring out a sustainable resource development scenario for AABLI,” Chappell-Ingram says. “And our affiliation with Community Partners has helped immensely. People don’t realize how hard it is to start up and run an organization. The HR support, the financial expertise, all of that frees me up to do what I need to do to keep our project growing.”

Which, by the way, makes a big difference in the lives of lots of people.