It is encouraging to see that the lack of diversity and inclusion at the top of companies is now a board-level issue and also something that is being talked regularly about in the press and within companies.
However, the problem that I have with the direction the debate is heading, (and the recent law passed in California is evidence of this) is that it’s becoming far too narrow. Diversity goes far beyond gender or even race, and yet gender related issues and stories are the only thing I seem to read about.
Of course, gender is a critical part of the diversity effort, and I applaud companies’ efforts to ensure that they have more women in senior management and board positions. But this doesn’t go far enough - a few more women on a board does not make a board truly diverse.
I worry that companies are focusing too much on the gender imbalance and once they have promoted more women into the right roles, they are putting a tick in the box and moving on to the next issue.
This is a mistake. Diversity is - and should be - about so much more. Diversity is so broad, covering everything from gender to age, race, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, skillset, discipline, experience and so many others.
When I talk about diversity, (and bemoan the lack thereof on boards) I am referring to the importance of diversity of thought more than anything else. Diversity of thought is so misunderstood, it’s widely underestimated how alike people from similar backgrounds tend to think.
It has been proven that diversity of thought on boards can help identify and avoid business risk, challenge the traditional way of doing things, and encourage board members to see the business from a new and different perspective.
At Nurole, we see diversity in the recruitment process as a by-product of a better approach, a reinvention of the ‘little black book’ as it were. Our platform of over 20,000 of the highest calibre candidates reaches people that no headhunter’s little black book would ever reach.
I am proud to say that we just placed a 32 year old onto an investment trust board, probably the youngest person ever to be on a FTSE board. The people on our platform might be younger than a ‘traditional’ board member, or from a different background than a headhunter would usually look to, but that doesn’t make them any less qualified.
Traditional bias is still a problem with the headhunting model, as not only do headhunters tend to look only within their own fairly narrow networks, but they also usually look solely for candidates who already hold board positions.
I genuinely believe that first time board members are the key to helping the lack of diversity on boards, as on the whole they tend to be from more diverse backgrounds. Almost half of our placements in the last year have been first timers. Not only does this inject a new perspective onto a board, but also opens the playing field to people who might never have applied for a board-level role. This is not to say that they are not qualified to do so, but they just wouldn’t have applied as they thought they wouldn’t have been considered.
To achieve true diversity at the top of companies, they really must start to think and look outside the box when it comes to finding new board members. I want to see the debate moving beyond just talking about women and quotas, to talking about ‘true diversity’ and what that means. Tomorrow’s boards will look different and I look forward to continuing to help lead the charge in building better boards.
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