Much has been said about how boards of governance should be constituted to achieve the best outcomes for their stakeholders and members. In terms of practicality this can present challenges. There is still much entrenched thinking where effective representation is concerned and many like to model themselves on political government structures. A cynic once remarked that the traditional electoral process does not deliver the best outcomes with politicians that we don’t need, but deserve. Image over substance appears to be the determining factor in getting aspiring individuals into high elected office. The American presidential race is a good example of it, with financial incentives to match.

Sports bodies, Industry associations and professional societies with a federal structure and regional representation can serve of an example of popular choice over best qualified for the task. Self-interest and personal agendas spring to mind, as it can be difficult to think bigger picture when one is answerable to a local electorate. Parochialism tends to come with the territory, a fact that has many times been played out in international forums. Selecting candidates based on local preference also has the potential of creating a board largely made up of those with little or no understanding of board room dynamics with costly consequences from flawed decisions.

The editor of the authoritative UK journal on the subject, Governance and Compliance, commented in a recent issue on the desirability of having a truly representative board to achieve far reaching outcomes for their organisations. She pointed out that diversity as an achievable aim was still far off the mark with female representation as the first step world-wide still inconsistent. Attaining true diversity, however, is not just about gender. It is a matter of getting a mix of professional skills, ethnicity, social background, age and education to result in a balanced board to achieve the very best for all stakeholders. She went on to say that uniform thinking by homogenous boards will only encourage them to appoint new members in their own image.

The editorial states that setting targets to achieve this balance is needed to affect cultural change at the very top of organisations. Yet this is futile when it appears that the concept of diversity is still fundamentally misunderstood. The board of trustees of the New Zealand Association Resourced Centre is based on these principles, which are also adhered to by its association management company, Business Professional Services Limited. Both can serve as examples of diversity to good effect.