PARN Blog: Diversity & Representation

By Robert Pitts, Deputy CEO PARN - 16th August 2023

In this section of our quick canter through governance issues faced by many professional bodies we will look at diversity and representation.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that more diverse boards help secure a better performance for the organisation.  But as we note the reliance on volunteers especially when these are selected from within the stock of membership, can work against this factor.  Equally as we see boards and even governing councils become ever smaller apparently in pursuit of greater efficiencies, we also see less diversity.
Is it possible to address these two counter issues? Many organisations have adopted the recruitment of lay members to their boards in an attempt to broaden diversity and to shore up identified skill gaps.  But we suspect that this only goes so far in addressing this pressing issue.
However professional bodies are bound by the fact that they are membership organisations and with that comes an inherent responsibility to those it was created to serve.  The need to hear the member voice has presented a challenge for professional bodies since their inception.  This challenge was often met through governance structures that attempted to gather representation from a wide framework, achieved through large governing councils.  In order to ensure interests and other (geographical) demarcations were covered these councils needed to be large. But they were unwieldy and expensive and had difficulty in reaching quick and concise decisions often they would run counter to strategic aims in their democratic endeavours. Indeed, we might conclude that it is exceptionally difficult if not impossible to achieve both a democratic and strategic outcome at the same time.
But any organisation that purports to be a membership organisation is forever anchored with this touchstone, were it to become completely driven by strategy and one might argue completely professionalised, it is no longer an organisation that beats in unison with the membership heart. This may well be a circle that can never be squared, a dilemma that professional bodies have to navigate rather than solve.
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