Dispel the Myth of “FIT”: Improve Diversity on Your Board

A diverse, equitable and inclusive board culture contributes to the organization’s success by positioning directors to advise the CEO and add value in evolving markets. Does your board measure up?

Improve Diversity on Your Board

Diversity in the boardroom encompasses all dimensions of the human experience, including education, life experience, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography, age and specific areas of knowledge and expertise. The market is driving more attention to the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. Many institutional investors are sounding the bell not only for gender diversity but for racial diversity as well.

Key Considerations

“Fit” has long been part of the lexicon when evaluating board candidates. A candidate may have the desired technology expertise, but will he or she be an appropriate “fit” on a board replete with current and former CEOs? Granted, board candidates must possess broader business acumen rather than a specific domain of expertise. However, “fit” cannot be an excuse to sustain the status quo, nor should it be a cover for unconscious bias or other barriers to the participation of women and underrepresented groups in the boardroom.

It all starts with the board’s requirements when seeking candidates. If the screening criteria stipulate “a retired CEO who ran a large company at scale in the technology industry” or “a former CEO who managed through a crisis,” the available candidates will likely be mostly white males. However, with expanded search criteria, a broader pool of candidates will emerge. Improving diversity may require thinking out of the box and disrupting the “tried and true” processes used in the past.

Boards exemplify their true character in how they pursue diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Don’t expect a single diverse board member to have a disproportionate impact, which could potentially set up this person for failure. Recognize the research that says meaningful change comes with three such members. In addition, intentionally create an environment in which different perspectives are welcomed and dialogue is encouraged in the boardroom. This is a tone that the board chair and committee chairs must own.

Beyond the empirical evidence that shows diverse boards lead to better business performance, diverse boards also attract diversity to the organization itself. The long-standing strategic war for talent continues to grow more competitive as companies broaden the workforce. When top talent looks at the composition of the company’s board and executive team, what do they see?

An outward view of the changing demographics of the company’s current and prospective customers adds perspective. Does the diversity currently present in the boardroom and C-suite position the company to develop and gain access to market opportunities over the next 3 to 5 years? If not, is the organization acting with intention to address this gap?

We are all products of our experiences. In today’s era, directors can enrich their lives by increasing the diversity of their respective networks. Engaging in broadening conversations in different forums to listen and learn can help increase directors’ sensitivity to diversity as they position themselves to reduce unconscious bias when screening and selecting candidates.

Make it a priority to include women and underrepresented groups when mentoring promising executives. For example, meeting the company’s top 20-25 leaders engages the board more actively in succession planning and evaluating executive bench strength and diversity. It also helps increase the board’s engagement in mentoring and sponsoring future women and minority directors.

While this discussion is about the board, the relevance of diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization itself, including among key decision-makers, cannot be overstated. Bringing diversity into the boardroom, C-suite or customer-facing front lines begins with engagement, putting data in front of decision-makers, embracing that data, setting objectives and adopting a plan tailored to the business’s unique circumstances and driven with intention by every business leader.

Dashboards should focus on the company’s progress toward recruiting a diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace. Employee satisfaction with the company’s progress toward achieving diversity, equity and inclusion objectives should be tracked. Once objectives and expectations are set, results are best achieved through a transparent focus on measuring progress and linking compensation to performance. The board should not only expect progress annually but also look to its own role in setting the tone as well as consider the example set by the C-suite and other leaders.

Want to learn more? Read the full article from our Board Perspectives: Risk Oversight newsletter series.

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