What steps can be put in place to encourage a more diverse board of senior corporate leaders?

02 September 2019

In 2019, the case for board-level diversity could not be stronger. As countless studies have shown the correlation between corporate success and diversity, most leaders have come to realise that a competitive organisation is one that boasts talent from a broad cross-section of society. Yet, while considerable progress has been made to increase the diversity of UK boards and the organisations they lead, the pace of change leaves a lot to be desired.

While research from PwC revealed that 91 per cent of directors are now taking steps to improve diversity, responses from their survey unearthed an air of cynicism at board-level with more than half of directors stating their belief that diversity efforts are driven by political correctness. Nearly half think shareholders are too preoccupied with the topic while some even hint that it’s just a check-box exercise.

If we are to see the shape of boards change from homogenous groups to diverse teams of senior leaders, there are certain steps that need to be put in place.

 

Regularly assess implicit bias

It’s all well and good to want an inclusive culture, but true behavioural change must begin by identifying the deep-rooted, unconscious attitudes and judgements we make so that we can work on eliminating them from our decision-making process. Between board meetings, homework should be set for all senior leaders to test their implicit bias using assessments such as Project Implicit. During the next board meeting, time should be given for all leaders to share their findings in an open and honest setting.

 

Provide training for unbiased interviewing and selection processes

When recruiters choose talent from the same pool time and time again, they inevitably build a homogenous team that share the similar perspectives and very often, the same blind spots. Awareness of bias in the business environment is critical to eradicating it from the recruitment process, and anyone who is in a position to hire should be provided with training sessions resources to ensure recruitment decisions are based on skill-level, competency and potential as opposed to entrenched preconceptions.

 

Routinely examine your talent pool

All too often, board members approach those likeminded connections in their extended network, resulting in a typically uniform group of candidates without much variation. If they are to encourage diversity at senior level, those involved in the hiring process should regularly assess the width of the net they are casting into the talent pool and look at non-traditional sources for candidates such as non-profit boards or MBA programs. A specialist executive search firm can connect you with high-potential leadership talent from a diverse range of backgrounds to ensure a fair balance.

 

Build the foundations for a diverse board

Board culture is a key factor that drives board performance – as such, it should be regularly assessed to ensure it supports the organisation’s growth and sustainability strategy. Encouraging a diverse blend of talent at the top demands leaders of today to be deliberate in their actions; it requires them to foster a culture that nurtures high-potential talent and embraces diverse ideas, integrity and transparency. In this progressive environment, uncomfortable yet critical issues can be raised and discussed openly and communication around areas for cultural improvement within the business can be properly addressed.