Cultivating A More Diverse Corporate Board

diversityIt’s no secret that diversity has become a hot button issue in today’s C-suite as well as the corporate board. A recent research study found that most directors believe gender diversity adds value to the board. Furthermore, the majority thinks it improves board performance (82%) and brings a unique perspective to the board (94%).

Calibre One has seen this first hand. Every one of our silicon valley-based clients demands a diverse slate of executive candidates on retained searches and, we have recently assisted in diversifying several corporate boards.

That’s the good news! The bad news is that most organizations continue to fall short of their diversity goals. Caucasian men hold 69.2 percent of the seats analyzed, followed by Caucasian women who hold 16.4 percent, according to the 2016 Board Diversity Census.

This is particularly true across the technology landscape. Although Tesla recently appointed its first African-American board member in June 2017, we have a long way to go.

Intent vs. Impact

Undoubtedly, there are challenges to hiring diversity candidates for such roles. These range from the lack of a deep candidate pool, to the fear of hiring a candidate without the ‘ideal’ experience, to unconscious or inadvertent gender bias. Not to mention that many sought-after, high-performing diversity candidates are often more expensive than their peers.

While their intentions may be sincere, many companies are often reluctant to commit to the time, cost and risk to recruit a diverse executive.

“It is difficult to recruit for diversity if your company is not ‘walking the walk.’”

Shifting the Paradigm

Accelerating the recruitment of senior-level diverse talent requires a major shift in both the assessment and recruitment of potential candidates. However with some key adjustments in the hiring strategy, organization can reap the benefits of a more balanced boardroom.

  • Make culture a competitive differentiator

It is difficult to recruit for diversity if your company is not “walking the walk”. Embrace diversity as a priority by actively promoting an inclusive environment and cross-cultural understanding.

  • Expand your network

Many board members used personal networking or word of mouth to identify the candidate pool for new board members. Look beyond the traditional corporate world to consider candidates from the academic, government and nonprofit sectors. Some of our best diversity hires have had surprising, unorthodox career profiles.

  • Adopt a balanced assessment criteria

Vertical expertise or educational credentials are important, but are often narrow proxies for competence that will limit which candidates will pass early screenings. Consider (and even prioritize) a candidate’s “positive growth markers” and cumulative soft skills such as emotional intelligence, passion for the mission and ability to deal with adversity.

  • Unpack bias

Unconscious biases can have a profound and “problematic” effect on our judgment. While it’s natural to show a preference for people who share similarities, it is contrary to nurturing a diverse environment. Make a concerted effort to be mindful to avoid bias in the hiring process.

  • Accept risk

While this is often counter-intuitive, decision-makers should accept a certain amount of risk. Realistic concessions and adjustments may need to be made to successfully recruit the desired diversity candidate

Committing to a search process for a diverse board can be a tough path, but the payoff can be extremely valuable.