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The value of a diverse governing body

Governors need to give careful attention to the composition of the governing body, ensuring the membership is sufficiently diverse to allow discussion and decisions to be informed and tested by governors, bringing different perspectives and experiences.


A governing body with a diversity of membership brings a range of perspectives and is less likely to be subject to ‘group think’. This is a situation where individuals with common values and beliefs think in similar ways, and are unable to effectively question and challenge a prevailing assumption or judgement. Having governors drawn from a range of diverse backgrounds adds considerable value to the quality of decision-making. Studies of private sector companies have also suggested that business performance is improved by having a diverse membership of company boards.

The absence of a sufficiently diverse governing body can be one area that contributes to a failure of governance, as a lack of different perspectives could lead to the executive not being sufficiently challenged. 

Any board, any governing body or court should recognise diversity in all its guises, from age and ethnicity to gender and disability, because it is diversity of thought and experience that really adds to the richness of discussions.

Margaret Gibson, University of the West of Scotland lay court member

Reflecting on the diversity of the governing body

  1. How diverse is the governing body in respect of, for example, gender, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and age?
  2. How are new members of the governing body recruited? Is recruitment simply based on contacting known individuals or is there a genuine attempt to draw from a wider pool of talent?
  3. Has the governing body adopted a policy and targets relating to its own diversity? Does it regularly review its policy and assess whether it targets are being met?
  4. Does the governing body collect equality monitoring information about its members to understand its composition in relation to protected characteristics?

Additional information

The increasing focus on Governor diversity

In recent years there has been increased focus and actions to improve the diversity of governing bodies by the governments of the UK, Higher Education funding councils, the Committee of University Chairs, GuildHE, Advance HE and Universities UK.
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Gender diversity data

There is limited national data on the diversity of higher education governing bodies. Currently, the only available published sources are the Women Count reports published in 2013 and 2016. This data is not self-declared by institutions and relates only to the gender balance of governing bodies.
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Improving diversity

Many HEIs are seeking to increase the diversity of their governing body. Our research and engagement with institutions suggests that the main methods being used include drawing-up new role descriptions for governors, advertising more widely and using supporting documents to encourage more diverse candidates to come forward, together with using search agencies.
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Find out more about Governance and EDI

Governance and EDI