Bracken Killpack: “Who Do We Already Know?” Isn’t Good Enough

"I am asking all members to hold us accountable for expanding our entire leadership pipeline to be more reflective of the increasingly multifaceted diversity of our membership, the dental profession, and society at large."

Bracken KillpackBracken Killpack
WSDA Executive Director

Every two years, BoardSource, a nonprofit organization focused on nonprofit board leadership, releases a study entitled “Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.” I came upon two notable findings in the 2021 study that had not been reported in previous iterations.  

The first finding had to do with the differences in self-identified difficulty in recruiting board leadership. Over half of the board chairs surveyed reported having difficulty finding people to serve on their boards. The primary reasons cited for this difficulty were “the limited ‘supply’ of interested individuals,” the time required to serve, and “the challenge finding individuals with the desired skill set.”  

These findings are not particularly surprising (especially for anyone who has spent time recruiting and vetting candidates for a board). However, what was notable to me was the significant difference reflected in the data between organizations that are intentional about articulating a desired mix of lived experiences and other traits in candidates recruited for leadership compared to those that do not employ this practice. 

Specifically, the data show that organizations found it easier to recruit leadership when:  

  • Board leaders utilized what BoardSource calls a “Board Matrix” approach, in which the organization develops an intentional checklist of desired backgrounds, characteristics, expertise, and other traits defined by the organization that it wants represented in its leadership. 
  • Organizations then use their “Board Matrix” to identify attributes that are underrepresented or entirely absent from the organization’s leadership to inform their recruitment efforts. 

Unfortunately, the data also show that the most common question organizational leaders ask when recruiting future leaders is, “Who do we already know?” — inevitably perpetuating continuity of your status quo and decreasing the likelihood that people who you don’t know ever make it into leadership. 

For years, WSDA has taken a “who do we already know” approach in identifying future leaders, rather than a “Board Matrix” approach. Historically, a Task Force on Nominations is appointed to put together a slate of candidates for WSDA’s elected positions, and a few volunteer leaders and staff identify potential candidates for the appointed positions.  

This, however, is about to change. 

The 2021 House of Delegates took a decisive step away from our status quo by passing a bylaws amendment which replaces the Task Force on Nominations model with a permanent Nominations Committee. This new committee is charged with identifying candidates for all WSDA leadership positions (elected and appointed), managing our leadership pipeline, and serving as a point of contact for all interested in getting involved in leadership in organized dentistry. This committee will be charged with building and maintaining our “Board Matrix.” 

The bylaws amendment also stipulates that only two of the ten members of the committee can be current members of the Board of Directors, and that remaining committee members must be filled by members “reflective of the diversity of experience, geography, training, gender, and race/ethnicity of the Association’s members.” 

The second notable finding from the 2021 Leading with Intent study was the strong correlation between organizational effectiveness and focus on inclusivity within the organization’s leadership pipeline and decision-making processes. The 2021 survey data show that leaders who reported the highest levels of organizational effectiveness were also, generally speaking, the most likely to have adopted more inclusive practices. This data is consistent with emerging research that shows that the companies with the most leadership diversity are more profitable than their less diverse peers (see McKinsey & Company’s “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters if you want to learn more).  

WSDA is investing time and resources into recruiting leaders with a broader array of knowledge, skills, and experiences. I am asking all members to hold us accountable for expanding our entire leadership pipeline to be more reflective of the increasingly multifaceted diversity of our membership, the dental profession, and society at large.

This editorial originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of WSDA News.

The views expressed in all WSDA publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions or policies of the WSDA.