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Profiles in Disruption: Pushing For Diversity on Boards

January 29, 2015Catalyst’s #DisruptTheDefault campaign is a call to action for individuals and companies to make bold moves that forge meaningful change for women and men in the workplace—and the world! It’s also about showcasing how others are doing this in their lives and organizations.

Each and every one of us has the power to #DisruptTheDefault and change the way we think and act—and to challenge others to do the same!

Meet: Maria Scrivani, a former reporter for The Buffalo News and a contributing writer for Buffalo Spree magazine. She is the co-author of Beautiful Buffalo: Preserving a City, published by Canisius College Press in 2003, and the author of Brighter Buffalo: Renewing a City, which was published by Western New York Wares in 2009. Her latest book, a children’s guide called All About Buffalo, was illustrated by Michael Morgulis and published in 2011 by Western New York Wares. In addition to volunteering at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, she has served on the boards of the Allentown Association, the 800 West Ferry Condo Association, the Just Buffalo Literary Center, Torn Space Theater, and the Park School of Buffalo. She is a graduate of Canisius College.

As someone who has served on a number of boards, can you talk a little bit about that experience and why you think achieving diversity is still a challenge today? 

It’s hard to believe we are still just talking about diversity on boards. Shouldn’t this landscape have shifted long ago? Even the Pope is altering the status quo in the hoary halls of the Vatican, appointing clergy of color and non-European nationalities to his “board,” the College of Cardinals. No women there yet, but let’s not get crazy here—social change is incremental, or glacial to those of us who have long been working for it. (Actually, with the advance of global warming, a glacial pace isn’t so bad anymore—those icy behemoths are melting faster than ever!) 

But I digress from diversity, our topic of the day. For nearly four decades, I’ve served on various nonprofit boards. The first one I ever sat on was, in fact, the most diverse. It was the board of a group whose mission is to create and strengthen communities through the literary arts, in part by sponsoring celebrated authors from around the world to participate in an annual speaking series. Living out its mission, the organization was directed by a board that reflected my city’s diverse population. Since then, I’ve been on boards representing community and arts associations, educational institutions, and condominium owners. They all had different missions, of course, but they were all immersed in communities with diverse populations. 

Why do you think you became interested in this issue, and how do you push for change? 

Maybe because I grew up in a family with nine children, where I learned from an early age to speak up for what I wanted, I am often the “squeaky wheel” asking for more. If I see all white (or all male) faces around a boardroom table, it occurs to me to persist in asking why. I always try to get a seat on the board governance or nominating committee, because that’s where new board members are proposed and vetted. I make it a point to insist on a diverse candidate slate. I’m sorry to say it remains a tough challenge—the negative votes are often cloaked in pragmatism and stark financial realities; since financial woes are so often the bane of nonprofits, well-heeled prospective members tend to be the most attractive candidates. And in most places I’ve lived, the best-heeled tend not to be people of color.  

To put it very simply, organizations need more than capital to run well, and different people bring different skill sets to a good working board. Today the mission statements for all manner of associations typically include at least a nod to non-discrimination policies. Why not take that to heart? Look around your boardroom. If everybody looks the same, it’s time to diversify; past time, really. Let’s not let the Catholic Church put us to shame on this one.

Join Maria and other “disruptors” in saying “No” to the status quo by taking our pledge today!

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.