Susan Salka: Boardroom Diversity Is More Than Just Filling Quotas

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Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare as well as a board member with both AMN and McKesson, reflects on the changing tide of diversity inclusion, both in the workplace and on the boardroom.

You’ve been serving on boards for a while. There is more of an effort to increase diversity on boards. Talk to me about your experiences and what you’ve observed in this area.

The good news is the tide is changing. It’s probably been slower than anyone would like, and maybe it’s taken even some negative situations to get people more attentive to the fact that diversity has been research-proven to deliver better results. Board diversity is something that’s essential.

And I can tell you when talking with shareholders, we absolutely hear more questions around board diversity. And so, when we think about board diversity, it’s not just women, although I think more companies are more attentive to the fact that they need gender diversity. And I can say that AMN and McKesson, probably lead the way, and we’ve been recognized for that in many ways.

But we can even do better in having more board diversity as it relates to age diversity. So it’s not just gender. We should be looking at ethnicity, experiences, age, really any form of diversity because it’s going to give you a different perspective. You know, it can’t all be 65 to 75 year-old retired executives. I don’t think it should be. I think it ought to be folks that are bringing, yes, experience and maturity and insights, and maybe even tenure on the board. This can be a really great thing, but then also sprinkled in with newer directors that are bringing perhaps a more current perspective of what’s happening in corporate governance, best practices, and even just in leadership and management styles. Not that we’re managing the businesses but just to be able to sort of ask the right questions and understand the realities of running a business today and with millennials, the digital age and consumerism and all these things. In the 20 years I’ve been at AMN, things have changed dramatically, and so we need directors that reflect that.

So that’s the good news, I guess, is it is changing. And as I am on the governance committee at McKesson. As we have looked at new directors there, we’ve looked at kind of all of those issues, and will continue to, and at AMN, as well. We’re actually looking at adding additional board members in the foreseeable future and diversity is one of the top attributes. And it’s not a checklist. It’s opinion, experience, age, gender, ethnicity. You know, it could be anything.

 And when you look at the problems of staffing in healthcare, I mean, the problems are very diversified across different, you know, regions across the country. So that kind of perspective, I’m sure, will be a huge help in kind of solving some of the challenges you were talking about earlier.

Absolutely. Yeah, ideally, you want your board and your management team and the company to reflect the diversity of your clients and the people you interact with in the market. For us, we want reflect the diversity of our clinicians and the healthcare leaders that we place. We want our board to reflect the diversity of our corporate team. So when our corporate team is looking up to the board and saying, “Gosh, are they clued in to who we are and what we’re about?” They need to see a board that reflects a pretty broad spectrum of diverse opinions and ideas. And then, likewise, you know, for shareholders. I think shareholders fortunately are beginning to ask that question more frequently.

Read more: Board Diversity Propels Performance


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