4 Fresh Ideas to Bring More Diversity Into Your Boardroom
Along with C-suite executives, corporate boards hold great sway and power. And that’s a good thing. But it could be so much better for organizations, employees, customers, and society if more companies focused on choosing diverse board members.
This doesn’t just mean diversity in skin color or ethnicity. It means diversity in everything from gender and age to upbringing and experience. The more groups represented in a boardroom, the higher the likelihood that the company will make decisions that positively affect a wider array of people. The good news is that this kind of diversity is happening. It’s just not happening fast enough to see palpable changes in real time.
According to Deloitte’s findings from 2020, white women have been among the fastest underrepresented groups to inch their way into Fortune 100 and 500 boardrooms. In contrast, men from minority groups have made hardly any progress. People of Asian and Pacific Islander descent also are barely represented on the most prominent executive boards.
These statistics show that there’s much more work to be done (and the numbers don’t even account for sexual orientation, ability, etc.). As an entrepreneur or leader, you might be in a position to help if you have a board of directors. Below are some suggestions for fostering a culture that sees diverse minds as assets in the boardroom — and the balance sheet:
1. Learn more about the importance of intersectionality.
The concept of intersectionality might be new to you. Put very simply, intersectionality describes how the many factors of a person’s identity (including race, gender, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, etc.) meet or intersect to create unique effects on that person’s life. Take Lu Zhang, for instance. She’s the founder and managing partner of Fusion Fund, a venture capital firm that focuses on backing early-stage startups with technical or data advantages in their business models. Yet, she’s not just an executive in a space dominated by men. She’s a young, ambitious Mongolian immigrant woman, too.
Zhang holds seats on multiple boards, bringing a unique perspective and one-of-a-kind intersectionality. As Zhang explains, “Diversity is critical to innovation. I want to see more diverse people become rule makers and not just rule breakers. Companies will benefit from increasing representation on boards for people of different genders, ethnicities, races, experiences, and cognitive abilities.”
How can you construct a board that makes the most of everyone’s intersectionality and therefore improves the “voices at the table” of your organization? Consider inviting people from diverse backgrounds to your advisory committees. This gives you a chance to meet them and see if they might be potential board members in the future. Be sure to attend other boards’ events when you’re invited as well. There, you could meet professionals interested in joining boards like yours and bringing their perspectives and input to your mission, vision, and purpose.
2. Avoid a board filled with ‘yes’ people.
It can be comforting to have only modest bouts of dissension at the boardroom table. But you shouldn’t choose board members because you know they’ll always agree. Hearing conflicting ideas — as long as they’re respectful and remain inclusive — is a good way to bring attention to issues you might never have realized.
Columbia University professor and The New York Times contributor John McWhorter wrote recently about the idea that the herd mentality (the reason we’ll say “yes” even when we don’t want to) is getting some much-needed pushback. He notes, “… So many other people are seeking to countenance diversity of thought, disavowing the comforts of the idea that their view is the only legitimate one and fostering an ideal under which our society frames difference of opinion as a norm rather than a threat.”
Certainly, it can be hard to deal with discussions and debates in a board setting. However, any group is bound to be filled with people who see the world differently. Filling your board with opinionated members can lead to epiphanies and disruptive solutions.
3. Choose board members based on something other than their résumés.
By all accounts, the résumé has had a good run in the business world. From the time we first decide to join the working world, we’re introduced to the idea of the formal résumé. Nevertheless, many companies have begun to ditch résumés in favor of experience and potential.
For instance, one London-based hiring manager told Fortune he’d stopped looking at résumés altogether. Instead, he asks candidates two questions. Their responses seal the deal of whether they’ll get the job. Their backgrounds are never taken into consideration — including the coveted college degree that fewer and fewer employers seem to care about.
It can be tempting to sift through résumés the old-fashioned way to select board members. The problem is that you might end up losing an opportunity to work with someone who lacks traditionally heralded credentials but could be a huge asset to your company and its stakeholders. The next time a board seat opens up, explore untested ways to find the right fit. It’s fine to ask for a résumé if you want, but don’t use formality as an excuse to be exclusionary.
4. Make it safe for underrepresented professionals to join your board.
Psychological safety isn’t just important for your employees. It’s equally important for your board members. You can’t set up a diverse boardroom if people are scared to speak their minds for fear of retaliation or retribution. This means you have to make it clear that microaggressions, which often happen unintentionally, can’t be allowed or dismissed.
What do you do if someone makes a mistake? According to writer Rebecca Knight, take the situation in stride and keep the apologies short but meaningful. As she points out, the person who feels hurt by the microaggression shouldn’t be afraid to say something. And the person who commits the microaggression doesn’t need to do more than offer a genuine “I’m sorry.”
The point isn’t for everyone on your board to be perfect. It’s for everyone on your board to feel heard and valued. Making certain everyone feels safe is a good starting place.
Thus far, corporate boardrooms haven’t been bastions of diversity. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever be, though. All it takes is leaders willing to see the benefits of bringing fresh eyes to the table.