The Alliance for Board Diversity just released its biannual Missing Pieces Report, which measures the representation of women and people of color on the boards of the Fortune 500. The verdict was mixed. There was definitely some good news: the representation of women and minorities reached 34 percent, an all-time high and an almost 3 percent gain from 2016. The number of companies reaching 40 percent board diversity nearly tripled from 2016, to 145.
There was also a clear message that there is still work to be done: women and minorities still remain significantly underrepresented in the boardroom. Just one example: while women account for half of the population of the U.S., they hold less than 25 percent of board seats in the Fortune 100.
There are people, and more than a few, who ask: Why does it matter? Here’s why: It’s a bottom-line issue. A homogenous board is more likely to become a group-think board, a board comprised of people who all look alike, who are of the same gender, whose backgrounds are similar, who went to similar schools, are of a similar age, and who have a united view of the world. How does that advance a company that depends on fresh, different, and new perspectives to solve problems and develop new methods to address them? And how does it serve as a check on a CEO who likely has the very same background?
Data has shown that companies with boards comprised of different people from different backgrounds, educational institutions, and cultures, who have been through very different experiences, have benefitted economically. Which group is going to be able to better navigate the increasing inter-connectiveness of global business, and be able to mine different points of view to arrive at innovative and effective solutions and strategies?
So there is a clear business imperative to board diversity. But there is also a moral one. I’m reminded of a quote I heard from a woman leader years ago, about the need for more women to run for office: “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Visibility matters. To young women and young people of color aspiring to better lives and roles of leadership, it’s critical that they can actually see a path forward, that they see their own faces reflected in the C-Suites and board rooms of American companies.
It sends a message far and wide, both in the corporate world and outside of it, that diversity matters. In order to build the biggest and brightest brain trusts of tomorrow, we need to offer a clear path up the ladder so that every young person who aspires to a leadership role knows that it’s possible. If they can do it, I can do it.
One of the perks of doing what I do is that I get the opportunity to meet incredible leaders from across the spectrum, each of whom desires to do their very best to ensure that their companies and their stakeholders—board members, employees, and customers—have the proper tools and vision to move their organizations forward. I interview all sorts of executives, men and women, from every ethnic group. And I am energized for the future, to see all of this diverse talent being advanced and harnessed. Yes, work remains.
But we are on the right path, the wind at our collective back, as we walk steadfastly toward more diverse and inclusive leadership, in the board room and the C-Suite.