A common purpose achieved through diversity

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As I write this article, Arkansas is experiencing our worst February winter weather event in more than a hundred years. In an effort to stay warm, I have been using a quilt that was sewn by one of my grandmothers. The quilt top has no particular pattern and is made of random pieces of fabric of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Although this quilt is not a traditional pattern, it is nonetheless a thing of beauty. The way in which the different colors and shapes of fabric are pieced together is unexpected and unique. The joining together of all these fabrics created a piece of textile art that is not only practical but also very interesting.

President's message

Diversity in organizations works in much the same way. When people of different backgrounds and ethnicities come together with a common purpose, they bring perspectives and experiences that enrich and inform their collaborative work. As a result, the generative and strategic thinking that are part of good governance become more dynamic and deeper than what might be experienced in an organization that does not embrace diversity as a value.

photograph of Harold Dean
Harold Dean, ASWB president

From the time I first became involved with ASWB until now, one of the things that has always impressed me about ASWB has been its commitment to diversity. The association went through growing pains in the early years to become inclusive. Sunny Andrews of Nebraska was elected president-elect in 1992 during a turbulent period. The association’s unity was challenged by seven member boards—including Arkansas—that wanted changes made to the way the organization was run. By November 1993, when Sunny took office as president, most of the dissension had been resolved and rebuilding could begin. It’s interesting to note that as member boards tried to work through their differences, many board members were wearing pins with the sentiment, “Oh, Goody, Diversity,” acknowledging the method of policy governance used to get the association reunited.

Today, section V of the ASWB policy manual is devoted to the Board of Directors. The introduction of Policy 5.3, Conduct of Business states: “The Board of Directors conducts the business of the Association in accordance with ASWB bylaws, and structures its meetings, discussions, and voting processes in ways that emphasize full participation and consensus while supporting diverse viewpoints.”

I am looking forward to working with the new Board of Directors elected by membership in November. Board members have come to our first meetings prepared, having reviewed the packet of information to be discussed at the meeting. They have demonstrated an openness to diverse thinking and a willingness to consider different viewpoints. Even when differences are voiced, Board members are respectful of one another and willing to work together. The different perspectives allow the Board to keep what is best for the organization at the forefront of our discussions.

I imagine the pieces of fabric in my grandmother’s quilt had meaning for her. She had a reason for saving them: Perhaps she kept remnants from a favorite dress or a piece of a baby’s blanket. Looked at this way, they provided context and dimension to the simple act of stitching a quilt. She was making a utilitarian object and at the same time expressing a point of view for the generations who would receive the quilt as a cherished heirloom.

When people of different backgrounds and ethnicities come together with a common purpose, they bring perspectives and experiences that enrich and inform their collaborative work.
— Harold Dean

In the same way, ASWB has built a quilt of sorts in the leaders of the organization over time. Looking at the photos of the boards of directors from past to present, I appreciate the bylaws charge that the Nominating Committee “shall use its best efforts to reflect diversity on both the Board of Directors and the Nominating Committee.” Geographic, racial and ethnic, gender, and regulatory diversity are all reflected in the gallery of leadership. It makes me proud to be part of this organization.