Why should a conservation district board care about diversity?
The idea of diversity goes beyond differing races or genders on district boards. Creating a diverse board provides the best possible customer service to communities. A diverse board reflects the ideas of many cultures, races, religions and genders and creates an environment of inclusivity so everyone can feel comfortable coming to a conservation district for assistance. The demographics of this nation are changing rapidly, and districts have the opportunity to welcome that change by embracing the diversity of the community they serve.
How do we build a diverse board?
Building a diverse board does not happen overnight. It will take time, patience and commitment in order for diversity to happen. Diversity inclusion efforts should be driven by an internal desire to see the communities served and the natural resource needs meet.
Districts have seen a need to work with a rapidly growing urban population, which is why community conservation programs can be successful. Building relationships through a volunteer or associate board member program could lead to new board member recruits. NACD or NRCS can help districts get started with these endeavors.
Training is Important
With increased diversity comes the need for more training. Historically, people who join the board of a conservation district do so because either a family member was a part of the board or a close friend invited them to be a part of it. The traditional recruit has a background of what a conservation district is and what they do. This may not be the case with all new recruits. The new recruits will most likely not be as familiar with the program names that everyone else seems to know, or even what the function of a conservation district is. While every new board member needs to be trained, there will be an increased need for training with a diversified board.
Make sure everyone at the table has a chance to ask questions. Boards may run their meetings without a chance for a question and answer time, but with a new board, these question and answer times can be valuable in making sure that everyone at the meeting can clearly understand the issues that are being addressed. Additionally, hearing new perspectives, opinions and experiences is crucial in order to challenge the status-quo and grow. Districts should take the time to understand each individual board member’s strengths and play to those.
Everyone Wants to be Treated the Same
Every district official needs an opportunity to grow at his or her own pace. Diversity inclusion is organic and about building a stronger district. Pushing people into leadership positions before they are ready can cause burnout. At the same time, districts needs to be very careful they are not operating under prejudices that block the advancement of talented individuals that do not match up to what your district considers to be typical.
Areas in Which Your District Can Diversify
Now that your district has seen the value of diversity and some keys on successfully diversifying, the question may still remain of whom we can recruit. Again, this comes down to where your district is located and what is happening in your location. Below are some ideas of recruitment ideas based on national trends and statistics:
- Women – Increasingly, women are a part of both nonprofit and corporate boards. Recent studies show that boards with women on them have increased regularity in reviewing financial performance measures. There is also greater adherence to conflict of interest guidelines and codes of conducts. Women bring a unique perspective and opinions to boards that can help them grow in areas they had not addressed before. While women make up over 50 percent of the population, they are often poorly represented on local boards, state boards and at the national level. Furthermore, women are the fastest growing sector of agricultural workers in the nation.
- Minority Groups – The 2000 census showed there are only six states that have a minority population less than ten percent. Conservation districts must incorporate the strengths these minority populations bring to the conservation movement. By incorporating different minority populations that are found in your district, your district will greatly enhance its capacity to serve your entire population.
- Urban/Suburban – Conservation districts often overlook the potential that exists in urban centers and the citizens who are moving out of urban centers to purchase land in traditional agricultural, grazing or forested lands. By including people from these groups on your board, districts can develop relationships that will greatly increase conservation across the community’s landscape.
- Think Outside the Box – Districts should brainstorm unique ways to find diversity within their area. Local college campuses enable districts to recruit professors or students to volunteer or be a part of district activities. From organic farmers to religious groups, finding diverse opinions and approaches are not hard to come by in today’s society.
Board diversity supports a wide range of thoughts, ideas and talents from many different races, nationalities, genders and religions, reflected in locally-led decisions. A diverse board better enables districts to increase customer service and conserve natural resources.