Engaging Boards in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work

Reflections from a conversation with Partnership members around the nation


Partnership members come together quarterly to share strategies for advancing racial equity in their organizations. In September, Larry Marx of The Children’s Agenda (NY) and Paige Clausius-Parks of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT shared their organizations’ learnings, in a conversation focused on how to engage Boards of Directors in DEI work.

A strong Board of Directors can make every facet of an organization’s work more effective – including work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Partnership members came to the conversation with Paige and Larry from many different stages in their organizations’ race equity journeys. Three key themes emerged from the conversation: Mission, Board recruitment, and structures of accountability.

Who’s on the Board?

As an historically white-led organization, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT adopted an explicitly anti-racist mission some time ago. However, intentional recruitment and cultivation of new leaders has meant that the organization is now led by people of color at both the staff and Board levels.

As a relatively new leader of color, Paige knows that she can rely on the backing of a Board of Directors who sees and understands the challenges she faces, as well as the challenges faced by children and families of color in Rhode Island.

One of the challenges faced by The Children’s Agenda actually came from their own by-laws: The organization’s founders put a heavy emphasis on independent governance and eschewing the influence of people working in government and children’s service. That limited both the sources of funding that the organization could accept, and also who could serve on the Board. Updating the by-laws to allow more community leaders to serve has made a big difference in representation by people of color on The Children’s Agenda’s Board of Directors.

What’s in a mission statement?

A good mission statement is like a beacon: It lights a specific path forward for the organization. But it also shows that path to the rest of the world as well. Improving mission statements has been an important step along the race equity journey for both Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and The Children’s Agenda.

At both organizations, the Board was deeply involved in the process, setting the stage for powerful conversations that built shared investment and understanding throughout the leadership.

The mission of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT is to improve the health, safety, education, economic well-being, and development of Rhode Island’s children with a commitment to equity and the elimination of unacceptable disparities by race, ethnicity, disability, zip code, immigration status, neighborhood, and income.

The Children’s Agenda advocates for effective policies and drives evidenced-based solutions for the health, education and success of children. We are especially committed to children who are vulnerable because of poverty, racism, health inequities and trauma.

Both mission statements clearly convey the organizations’ visions for equity. Working together on those statements allowed the Board members themselves to really dig into the reasons behind that vision, as well as to get clear and succinct about the actions the organization needs to take to carry out their good intentions.

Structures and strategies

Every organization carries out its DEI work differently and creates different structures for accountability. “I do feel a special obligation as a white leader of an organization to make sure that we’re an anti-racist organization as best as we can be,” says Larry Marx.

For The Children’s Agenda, part of that effort is creating and tracking benchmarks. The organization uses a dashboard to help track its anti-racism progress in five key result areas, with a detailed anti-racism workplan underlying each area. Those five key result areas are: 

  • Advocacy agenda
  • Organizational partnerships and collaborations
  • Board development
  • Staff development
  • Organizational effectiveness


Rhode Island KIDS COUNT has taken a more organic approach, made possible by their long-term, intentional shift from an historically white-led organization, to an organization now led by people of color at both the staff and Board levels. The organization’s Board is now made up of 80% people of color.

“That really leads to how I’m able to step into this role in continuing to advance our race equity work, and our work to amplify community voice,” says Paige Clausius-Parks. “I’m able to do that because from our board up and down, all the way across, we see our community reflected. So that’s been a really huge important piece of how we’re able to move our mission.”

What difference does it make?

Representation matters. Intentionally recruiting leaders of color to the Board of Directors created a culture, environment, and focus on race equity on the Board of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. That culture and focus has meant a strong foundation of support for the organization’s Executive Director and staff, to stand firmly behind their important policy work to remove barriers for children of color in the state.

Larry Marx feels strongly that good DEI work increases organizational effectiveness. One of the key “result areas” that The Children’s Agenda tracks in their DEI dashboard is increased organizational effectiveness. Paying close attention to how racism harms our kids and our communities is not just the right thing to do, says Marx, “It’s also the smart thing to do.”

Join the next conversation!

Don’t miss the next Race Equity Leadership conversation on December 7th[date]. The registration link will be available to Partnership members in upcoming newsletters.

Many thanks to Larry Marx of the Children’s Agenda (NY) and Paige Clausius-Parks of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT for generously sharing their expertise and insights during the September Race Equity Leadership conversation.