The NESEA Board of Directors recently adopted a policy to address the types of candidates it will cultivate and recruit when it has the opportunity to appoint new board members. Today’s Members Monthly features an interview with Board Member Jenna Ide, who drafted the policy, about the “why’s” and “wherefores.” Per Nominating Committee Chair Martine Dion, “The Board Diversity Policy is quite an accomplishment for the NESEA Board. Jenna’s insight and expertise in leading this effort speaks directly as to how the Board and overall organization will benefit in expanding its diversity goals.”
Tell me about the board discretionary policy. What is it? What inspired it?
The board discretionary policy will guide the board in what types of candidates to cultivate and recruit when we have the opportunity to appoint new board members. We adopted it to ensure that we are moving toward a board that better reflects the demographics of our community. We recognize the importance of diversity in our leadership. The board needs to lead by example - if we want to diversify the NESEA community overall, it’s important that we start from the top so that people can see our commitment at all levels in the organization.
By way of background, under NESEA’s bylaws, NESEA members elect three board members each year, and the board appoints at least one board member. All board members serve for three-year terms, and the terms are staggered so that we have a fair amount of continuity in leadership from year to year.
Our plan to diversify the NESEA board ties in nicely with several goals in our strategic plan - in particular, goal 3, which relates to broadening the demographic diversity of NESEA membership to better reflect the communities we serve, starting first with emerging professionals; and goal 5, which requires us to identify ways to offer NESEA programming in underserved portions of the Northeast. Incidentally, as we attract younger people into our community and bring them into leadership, we will have more opportunities to recruit to meet these goals..
The policy itself looks at skill sets that we need to have represented on the board, the geographic region each board member is from or connected to, the candidate’s profession, the sector they work in (ex. Single family, multifamily, commercial, municipal, government). It also recognizes the board’s commitment to diversity.
I was inspired to work on the policy because I had done a lot of work on diversity goals while I was at DCAMM (Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) relating to the number of women and minorities in the design and construction fields. In the U.S, women and minorities have had a more difficult time making inroads into these fields, and it is something I feel really passionate about.
We’ve done a good job already of ensuring that we have the necessary skill sets and competencies on the board. We’re striving to meet the diversity goals and better geographic distribution of board members over the next five years. It will be a stretch, especially since we typically only appoint one board member per year. But this policy puts diversity squarely on our radar, alongside the other factors we look for in strong board members.
How diverse is the NESEA board right now?
Right now we have four women and two minorities on our 13-member board of directors. This isn’t a bad place to start, given that many of the professions represented in NESEA membership are still dominated by caucasian men.
We are doing much better with respect to representation from different sectors, professions, and geographic area, especially with respect to representation from New York City. Five or six years ago, we only had one board member representing NYC . . . now we have four. Our focus on attracting new leadership from NYC has helped us broaden and diversify our community in the Tri-State area.
In addition to geographic diversity, we are using the policy to diversify the markets we serve - in particular, per strategic goal 2, we are focusing on including more Commercial & Institutional content and practitioners in the NESEA community. There is more diversity in that sector as well, given that they are often focusing on larger urban areas, and the work is being done by larger firms who have set their own diversity goals.
How does the policy further NESEA’s mission?
When you bring in new people, they bring their networks with them!
NESEA has an amazing ability to bring to the forefront the best work that’s being done in sustainable building in the Northeast. We can only share that information more broadly by amplifying our voice and diversifying the types of people who curate and access our content and our network. Knowledge transfer happens only if we have all of the important stakeholders at the table. Otherwise, we’re operating in an echo chamber.
How did you decide what types of diversity were important?
Historically, the NESEA community was represented almost exclusively by middle-aged white men because of the nature of the practice of professional design, engineers, and contractors. As long as 10 years ago, led by NESEA Lifetime Member Bruce Coldham, the NESEA Board started to work with Mitch Anthony to bring the next generation into NESEA. This happened informally, without specific metrics or targets for board composition for many years. And we did make significant progress.
More recently, we’ve seen the age and sector diversity improve within our community, but not as much with ethnic, racial, gender, and socio-economic diversity. So we started by looking at the demographics in each of the states we serve with respect to racial and ethnic minorities.
We averaged the numbers for our service territory, and came up with an overall target for the minimum number of board members we’d like to have that are diverse from the perspective of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status. Our target is to have 40% minority membership (race, sexual orientation, and disability status) of the board within 5 years . . . and at least 50% women on the board. Again, it’s a tall order, but a great thing for us to strive for.
It’s important for us to be leading in every way we can as a board. You can have sustainable energy and sustainable buildings, but sustainability also hinges on intergenerational diversity and creating a healthy environment that supports all types of people and communities. This really fits in with what our NESEA members do everyday; they do not shy away from high level goals or from working to meet many goals at the same time. That is the nature of sustainable building.
What kind of outreach will the board do to implement the policy? What challenges do you foresee, if any, in living up to the policy?
We have recently recruited a few board members who have networks that are different than what’s been represented on the board in the past. We are working with all existing board members and encouraging them to reach beyond their comfort zone to bring new faces to the table. Also, with new markets, regions, and emerging professionals, we have an opportunity to engage a broader audience.
In the past, it has been difficult for us to recruit women and minorities to serve on the board. There are fewer of them, and many are spread too thinly with career and family obligations, or haven’t had the autonomy or flexibility in their schedules to make the commitment. And sometimes their networks are less well-developed, because there are institutional barriers that they have had to overcome. We may need to look at whether there are additional supports we can provide to make it possible for them to serve.
NESEA advances sustainability practices in the built environment by cultivating a cross-disciplinary community where practitioners are encouraged to share, collaborate and learn.