Did Komen’s Lack of Board Diversity Cause Its Crisis?

The nonprofit organization’s board of directors is mostly Texan, homogeneous and wealthy. Here’s how the lack of diversity fueled its misstep over funding to Planned Parenthood.

SusanGKomen.PlannedParenthoodThe nonprofit Susan G. Komen organization’s board of directors is mostly Texan, homogeneous and wealthy. Here’s how the lack of diversity fueled its misstep over funding to Planned Parenthood, which resulted in a PR fiasco and a marketplace lack of confidence that will be hard to repair.

The organization, which fights breast cancer, reversed its decision to defund Planned Parenthood, but can the damage really be undone? The resulting mistrust from Komen’s flip-flop stance and delayed response to protests now has former supporters wary of backing the organization and raising questions.

How could such a poor decision get approved in the first place? The answer could lie in a lack of diversity in its board, according to an article on MotherJones.com by Clara Jeffery.

Calling for an Overhaul

The article delves into the organization’s other underlying issues—such as the way donated funds are collected and distributed, its focus on finding a cure over prevention and how the organization threatened to sue other charities for utilizing their “for the cure” phrasing in marketing.

Most notably, it makes the call for a complete Komen overhaul—starting with its “sucky” board of directors, says Jeffery. She notes that the nine board members are mostly white (there are only two Blacks on the board) and most are wealthy Texans.

Ultimately, the article raises important questions about diversity in leadership and thought that is a common topic discussed at DiversityInc. Without more diversity among board members—individuals who can challenge the way the organization has typically done its business—how can Komen adapt and innovate to changing demographics and concerns among the population of women it purports to represent? How can it prevent communication blunders from happening again?

Diversity in Thought

Read these DiversityInc articles on diversity in thought and corporate values for more insight into how crucial diversity is to a business’ success and public relations:

Restoring Trust in Public Companies Through Diversity
Luis Aguilar is one of the most influential Latino attorneys in the country and has served as an executive in major U.S. companies. He talked to DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti about his commitment to diversity at the SEC and in the governance of the country’s public companies.

Did the Fed’s Stunning Lack of Diversity Cause the Housing Crisis?
Without a diversity-management structure, there are no checks and balances in place.

Will Occupy Wall Street Occupy Your Front Entrance?
They’re angry and growing in numbers. What does your organization have to do to not be a target?

Ask the White Guy: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong
Are you violating your values? If you are, you can’t hide from the repercussions.

Lessons on Values From Ellen & JCPenney
JCPenney’s support of Ellen DeGeneres after an attack by an anti-gay organization is a case study in clarity of values and CEO support.

Lowe’s Muslim Publicity Gaffe Serves as Case Study of What Not to Do
Lowe’s publicity nightmare continues after being the only major advertiser to pull its advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim” reality show.


Recommended Articles


  • Michael Hartl

    “She notes that the nine board members are mostly white (there are only two Blacks on the board)”

    Blacks are approximately 12-13% of the U.S. population. Two divided by nine is 22%. In other words, Blacks are overrepresented on the Komen board of directors.

    “Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense.” —John McCarthy

    • Luke Visconti

      Yes, however, over 36% of the U.S. population is Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black or American Indian – and that percentage is rapidly rising. Just because Blacks may be overrepresented, the description of “mostly white” still applies in this case. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • Michael Hartl

        I agree that the description “mostly white” is accurate, but the implication that this is evidence of a lack of diversity is not.

        P.S. I suggest configuring your software not to expose the usernames of your commenters’ email addresses. Even though the domain name is obscured with asterisks, many users will have accounts at yahoo.com, gmail.com, etc., making their addresses fairly easy to guess.

        • Luke Visconti

          Proof is in the pudding. I think having your son and three Dallas insiders on your board (four out of nine) is a study in a lack of diversity and it came around to bite them. Insiders on a board isn’t unusual, but it’s not a good recipe for evaluating decisions – this is a case study for diversity (and reasonable dissension) on a board.

          I’ll think about your suggestion on email addresses. The problem I have is that my email address is out in the open for internet bullies to send me their vitriol. You should see some of the comments that aren’t printed – we keep a log of IP addresses. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • Robert J. Bennett

        While it’s outside of “Diversity’s” focus, I think it also worth noting the the Komen foundation continues to accept siginfiant donations from food companies, who use BHA in their packaging. BHA is strongly linked to an increased proclivity, when introduced to young women, for the development of cancers specific to women. Presumably because they are concerned about losing funding, Komen is downplaying the evidence, which is being delivered outside the trational and conservative FDA outcomes – generally, as we know, supported by conservative drug company research. Perhaps a diverse board would be wiling to consider more forward thinking research. As a member of a family whose women have died young due to cancer, a once bright beacon of hope, the Komen foundation is now rendered tainted and self serving in my own view. Thank you

  • James Coles III

    It seems the real problem is that they reversed their stance on funding. Planned parenthood is under congressional investigation, to not fund was a good and long incomming decision. The political correctness does not seem to care about facts.

    • Luke Visconti

      Under congressional investigation started by a congressman with a particular point of view – which aligned quite nicely with the board’s point of view – which smacks of either opportunism or collusion to press forward that particular political agenda. “Under investigation” does not mean that there is even a chance of wrongdoing – it does not even rise to “under arrest.” “Political correctness” works both ways. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • …and justifying your own way of thinking can work both ways as well! You can’t possibly think that every decision made by an organization that you happen to disagree with has something to do with lack of diversity! Give me a break! The fact is they caved against their own policies in order to be politically correct, and that will get all of us in trouble one day when we can’t even follow the policies of our organization in fear of someone disagreeing with us under the guise of political correctness. I’m sick of it!!!

        • Luke Visconti

          Regardless of whether or not I agreed with the decision, it is widely known to have been a very bad decision. That’s where diversity comes in. Do you even read DiversityInc, or are you being directed here by some group? We seem to get a lot of comments on certain kinds of articles. If you happen to be a regular reader, please stop – although I think my editorial philosophy has evolved, it’s been very consistent editorial over the past 13 years, and if you’re getting sick over it, you should not read us anymore. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • I think lack of economic diversity may be even more at fault in Komen’s debacle than lack of ethnic diversity. One woman in five has benefitted from the services of Planned Parenthood, which provides accessible, very high-quality services, regardless of one’s ability to pay. Most women “of a certain age” have been patients of Planned Parenthood, because it was the leader in providing women’s health services to college students when the Sexual Revolution hit. If Komen’s entire board was born with silver spoons in their mouths, they might not have a realistic appreciation of the significant role Planned Parenthood has played in so many women’s lives.

  • Thanks for pointing out the composition of the Board. Diversity also implies that the individual brings a mindset and understanding that differs and thereby will be representative of ALL the stakeholders the organization serves.

    We have all watched the tremendous success of Susan G. Komen for the last decade. It may well be that what started out as one sister taking up the cause supported by her family has simply outgrown the “family” operated model.

  • The problem isn’t in their decision…whether you agree with it or not, that’s their right as an organization and a board to fund who they wish…the problem is folding under media and public pressure…if it was the right decision, why change your mind when pushed.

    I also fail to see the relevance of Texan as a sign of lack of diversity. People in Texas are just as diverse as the rest of the country. Perhaps someone’s bias is showing.


    • Luke Visconti

      Did you read the article? Texas is not relevant, it’s that four board members were from the same economic, demographic and philosophic mindset. Any four people from any one area who share those characteristics so tightly would be a problem on any board for any reason. It’s not a healthy management practice. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

    • I think that when you are dependent on the public for your funding, as most non-profit organizations are, including Komen, then bowing to public pressure is a necessity, not an act of cowardice as you seem to imply.

  • I’m done with the company. They are always raising money, but never show where it goes.

  • Great Point. Many Boards lack true diversity and keep making the same mistakes i.e. HP. Many search firms and CEOs are not engaged in the effort.

  • Luke, the question is why did she pick them as board members and why did she not make her board more reflective of women especially diversity women?

    • Luke Visconti

      A very good question, which I believe is answered in the breakdown of how donations are spent. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

« Previous Article     Next Article »