Strengthening Corporate Board Governance Through an EDI Lens

July 27, 2023 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Izabela Shubair, DeGroote Contributor

For over 25 years, Tahmena Bokhari has led organizations through inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility (IDEA), anti-racism, and decolonization transformation. Now, she is looking to make an impact on a bigger level. Bokhari has set her sights on corporate boards, where she says there is an absolute need to increase diversity and integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) practices.

This fall, as she begins The Directors College Chartered Director (C.Dir.) program, Bokhari will take a major step towards meeting her goal. And she will be doing so as the most recent recipient of the Alectra Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) Scholarship.

EDI in the Changing Nature of Governance

“The world is demanding more from the corporate sector and leaders in the business sector, and we have to listen,” says Bokhari, who currently works in human rights in education.

“We live in a new corporate reality, post-pandemic, with mental health, movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too, housing issues, and more awareness of global contexts. Boards have to be able to integrate this into their role and work. I am so grateful that The Directors College and Alectra are helping create pathways for corporations to do this.”

Established in 2021, the Alectra ED&I Scholarship offers racialized individuals the opportunity to attain governance education and certification by completing the globally recognized C.Dir. program, which results in a university-accredited professional designation. Alectra Utilities funds the annual scholarship, which covers all five program modules and is awarded to an Ontario-based individual who identifies as racialized.

Neetika Sathe is the Vice President, Green Energy & Technology Centre at Alectra, where she leads innovative and transformative energy initiatives. She is also a graduate of the C.Dir. program. According to Sathe, Alectra’s funding of the scholarship reflects the company’s deep-rooted commitment to EDI. It also signifies the recognition that the role of boards is evolving. The scholarship, she says, aligns with both the changing reality and the emerging priorities of board governance.

“If everyone on a board looks and identifies the same way, speaks the same language, and has similar lived experiences, you’ll have lots of blind spots,” says Sathe.

“To truly understand pain points of all stakeholders, and look at the problems of today’s complex world from different angles, we need diversity and inclusive-decision making. I view the scholarship as a catalyst for multiplied impact. By sponsoring students, we empower them to carry this message forward, influencing boards, careers, and society at large.”

Adds Bokhari, “In addition to needing folks with diverse identities and different lived experiences around the table, we also need to ensure we are using an EDI lens. It is not enough to just have different faces, but we actually have to look at our culture and leadership styles.”

The Role of The Directors College Chartered Director Program

During the course of her career, Bokhari has been on several not-for-profit boards and committees. In turning to the Chartered Director program for formal education, she hopes to strengthen her governance skills to be able to seamlessly incorporate EDI as she approaches corporate board work.

“I love how accessible The Directors College has made this program to attract a diversity of people in terms of their industries, educational backgrounds, and lived experience,” says Bokhari. “The idea of being with diverse colleagues and learning together is extremely appealing. The role and scenario-based learning is what I am really looking forward to.”

For Sathe, the program was a transformative experience, and she credits it with equipping her to drive impactful governance. Attending the program also gave Sathe first-hand insight into the significant impact the ED&I Scholarship has on recipients as it exposes them to the nuanced intricacies of technical and structural aspects as well as the cultural dynamics inherent in governance.

“I have been fortunate enough to complete the program and actually witness its impact on that year’s ED&I Scholarship recipient, Earl Davis, who took the learnings and an EDI lens into much of the work he is doing,” Sathe says.

“The scholarship has been a catalyst to accelerate recipients’ vision and purpose in EDI. It is truly remarkable, and I eagerly anticipate witnessing the transformative impact it will have on Tahmena’s journey.”

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