Changing demographics must be reflected at leadership levels

There’s been a lot of discussion of late about leadership transition in Greater Akron. Baby boomers are retiring in huge numbers, their successors at the helm of many companies and institutions of importance to Greater Akron unknown. How will we survive?

The retort is that we’ve been through this before and it will turn out just fine. In some ways, it’s tempting to believe that this is the same old story. But for a few reasons, I’d suggest that this time it’s different.

Increasing diversity

An emphasis in the current leadership transition conversation is on how well our community is doing in cultivating diverse leadership across gender, race and age. Whether we see it or not, we are in the midst of a dramatic demographic shift.

A new book by William Frey entitled, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,” shows that today’s youth are much more racially diverse than their predominantly white predecessors. Summit County’s data mirrors the trend. Its residents age 80 and over are 89.9 percent white. Among our youngest citizens (ages infant to 4), however, just 68 percent are white. Working backwards from the oldest age group, each gets increasingly more diverse and less white.

We must recognize that the composition of our citizenry is changing. If I’m a company that seeks to understand and connect with my customer base, diversity in my leadership team enables that deep understanding. If I’m a company that seeks to attract the best and the brightest talent to my workforce, diversity in my leadership team signals to diverse talent that they can aspire to greatness and leadership here. In short, if I’m a company that seeks to remain relevant in a changing world, diversity in my leadership team reflects that world.

GAR Foundation has focused on diversity within our community’s nonprofit sector. Diverse leadership of civic institutions makes sense for the same reasons it makes sense for business. Nonprofits provide a means for citizens to invest in their community. We talk with our grantees about the diversity on their boards because the organization’s decisions can only benefit from diverse perspectives in its boardroom. Further, individuals who engage with their community through nonprofit boards are more likely to “stick” in this community and invest in a variety of ways.

Embracing new leadership

Recent research on the diversity of local nonprofit boards conducted by BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, shows that we have work to do. The boards of Akron’s nonprofit institutions — especially its largest institutions — are still much whiter, more male and older than the population. But the conversation has started in a big way and nonprofits are working hard to embrace new leaders.

While that is good news, it won’t amount to much unless the goal of diverse leadership is embraced solidly by the private sector as well. Business drives the success of Greater Akron. While the public and nonprofit sectors play important roles, business is what determines our future prosperity.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Summit and adjacent counties in the areas of education, arts and arts education, health and social services, and civic and nonprofit enhancement.