One Group's Transition to a More Diverse and Inclusive Board

Zamora-One groups transition October 4, 2021 By: Leah Zamora, CAE

Taking an honest look at improving board composition and diversity led the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses to make some necessary but challenging changes to its board election process. It wasn’t easy, but it ultimately worked.

In 2015, the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses Board of Directors held a development session on “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” which started a conversation about changing the board election process from a competitive election to a fully appointed slate.

The whole process, which took about six years, involved several steps to updating the election process. The initial board development session led to the creation of the AANN Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which was charged with evaluating the composition of the board and the ways they could make an impact on its diversity moving forward.  

Then, in November 2017, Mark Engle, FASAE, CAE, presented his governance research, supported by the ASAE Research Foundation, to AANN’s board. At that time, changing the board election process required 10 percent of the membership to vote in favor of a bylaw change. AANN surveyed the membership to ask how they felt about eliminating the membership vote requirement for making changes to the bylaws. Results of the survey showed that about 66 percent of the membership agreed with eliminating the voting requirement.

A Leadership Umbrella

As the conversation continued, the board discussed looking at a “leadership umbrella” to encompass the nominating committee, diversity and inclusion task force, and the mentorship program. The board also recognized the need to include the voice of a bedside nurse on the board, but typically based on their role in facilities, they very rarely run for the board. The board was also looking for new- to neuro-bedside nurses with fewer than five years’ experience. This led them to create a non-voting board mentee position.  

While it was not an easy decision for the board to make, they ultimately decided that it was in the best interest of AANN to move to a fully appointed slate.

Engle was asked to lend his expertise to help develop what a hybrid election process could look like. The discussion, backed by his research, helped the board make the decision to create a nominations task force to look at the existing election process and make recommendations for ways it could be improved.

In March 2019, the nominations task force presented its proposal to the board and made a recommendation to move to a partially appointed slate. AANN started the transition process with the appointment of one director-at-large and, over the course of three years, transitioned to appointing all the officer positions and one director-at-large. The board decided to keep one director-at-large position as an elected position to give the membership its voice and provide a voting opportunity to those who felt strongly about the need for an election.  

Lessons Learned

AANN received feedback and concern from the past presidents and, even though a past president was included on the nominating task force, one lesson we learned was that we should have included the past leaders earlier in the process.

We also learned other lessons from their feedback. They would have preferred that the message came from leadership, not staff, and they wanted to be notified about the change  before members were. Perhaps if we had involved the past presidents earlier, they would have been more receptive to the changes. For example, they were concerned about the membership losing the opportunity to vote. Even with poor turnout over the years, the board felt members should still have a say in who was elected on the board.

However, we did not receive any negative feedback from the general membership. In fact, a very active member recently shared that the election process changes were helpful. The member said they didn’t feel qualified to pick the leadership of the organization but did feel comfortable with the Leadership Development Committee (LDC) vetting the candidates to select the ones who were best-suited to meet the competencies for the board. 

After going through the new election process one time, the board realized that electing one director-at-large position and appointing the other positions was not an effective process. The rationale was that the LDC had the data it needed and necessary time vetting the candidates to make sure they were the best leaders for the AANN board. 

Member Input

The changes to the election process were confirmed when the organization conducted a membership needs assessment survey in 2020 and an education assessment survey. The survey results showed that having a voice in selecting the leadership was not important to members. They said they prioritize education and view AANN as the organization that can provide them with the most up-to-date science and educational offerings. 

While it was not an easy decision for the board to make, they ultimately decided that it was in the best interest of AANN to move to a fully appointed slate. The first fully appointed slate will be proposed to the board in fall 2021. 

AANN is seeing some early changes in the demographics of the board, and the LDC has focused on making sure there is diversity in the specialty areas neuroscience nurses work in—work settings, years of experience, and visual diversity. The hope is to continue fulfilling the needs of the members, while maintaining a board that is representative of the membership and possesses the skills to move the organization forward. 

Leah Zamora, CAE

Leah Zamora is executive director of the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses in Chicago.