Diversity has been a hot topic for decades, and — as you know if you’ve been keeping up with our blog and social media posts — we’ve been focused on diversity for some time now. But, what you’ll also know is that we don’t believe that diversity is enough. It’s a starting point, and a very important one, but diversity without inclusion will not generate the business results you’re looking for.
One area of diversity that’s been receiving a lot of attention lately, and rightly so, is board diversity. American companies are woefully behind other parts of the world in terms of the diversity of their board members. Despite the fact that many companies — particularly those in high-tech circles — are making efforts to become more diverse, their boards still do not reflect that diversity.
This Fast Company article talks about this and offers some reasons why boards are still primarily comprised of older, white males.
Why does it matter? It’s not for the reasons you may initially think. In business settings, diversity isn’t about being nice to people; it’s not about the morality of respecting others. We believe these things are important, of course, but in our work, we take a very business-focused approach to diversity and inclusion. Inclusion is a business imperative!
Think about it. If you’re a global organization with products and services targeted to women, perhaps even targeted specifically to Latina women, and your board (and probably your senior leadership team) is comprised of older, white males, what are the odds that you’re going to be able to effectively connect with those audiences? They’re pretty slim. Why? Because these older, white males may have few, if any, insights into the attitudes, interests or opinions of these markets.
Your leadership make-up needs to reflect the make-up of your target audience. We call this “key employee demographics required for growth.” And, in this increasingly diverse and increasingly global business environment, it is highly unlikely that your target market is going to be made up only of older, white males.
So, what do you need to do? As Valerie Frederickson, the author of the Fast Company piece says: “It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of pale, male and stale, let’s make boards diverse effective, and innovative by expanding the job qualifications considered and modifying the practices used to find qualified candidates.” (Pale, Male and Stale = PMS)
The first step is to take a look at your current board make-up and compare it to your market. How much alignment is there? Where are there gaps?
The next step is taking steps to fill those gaps. Frederickson points to a number of reasons that boards tend to have a lack of diversity, many that are pervasive and can be challenging to overcome. But, as with any change initiative, the first step is simply recognizing that a problem exists. If that’s the case for your organization, it’s time to make the commitment to do something about it.
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