Encourage All Board Members to ContributeMar 23, 2023
- By Sophie Pinkoski
In recent years, diversity has become a top priority for board recruiting. As recently as 2017, McKinsey statistics have indicated that women and people of colour still made up the minority of many boards. Since then, organizations have made a conscious effort to be more intentional in their board recruitment by looking for candidates with different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. We’ve now progressed to the point where diversity in board recruitment is becoming the norm.
The next step is to understand the best way to leverage board members' diverse perspectives to improve the board performance.
Your new directors’ variety of age, gender, or life experiences will not improve board impact if all individuals do not have a means to add their unique skills, insights, or points of view to the board's discussions. For this reason, it’s important to recruit not just for diversity, but intentionally integrate it into your board meetings.
Strong leadership sets the cultural tone of your board
Your board chair and CEO should encourage open conversations to ensure meeting participation is balanced among board members. The way your board meetings function will affect the board's culture.
A hierarchical board, for instance, makes it more challenging for a variety of people to share their opinions when the board chair or CEO control the conversation without allowing time or consideration for other directors’ input. A Conference Board survey of 700 directors indicated that 43% of respondents found it difficult to share a dissenting view in the boardroom. An egalitarian approach is more inclusive, as everyone’s perspectives are valued and the conversation includes input from all directors. Every board member has a vote on a decision so every board member's perspective should be encouraged by the board chair and every other board member.
Healthy debate promotes more efficient decision-making –– When board members people are given the opportunity to share their questions and feedback on agenda items, it leads to more creative problem-solving by examining issues from many different angles. The predominant instinct might be to choose the first solution suggested, but the first option isn’t always the best option. By giving your entire board of directors the chance to share their ideas, they can open up a more careful, in-depth exploration of all possible risks and opportunities.
Constructive, critical analysis of a range of options available allows your board to proceed in a direction with increased clarity and confidence.
Consider a new board member who has no connections with the other board members or executive team. They’ll come to board meetings being curious about how things are done and why, which challenges the status quo and can motivate a fresh lens on topics before decisions are made.
Onboarding and DEI training go hand in hand –– Creating a more functionally inclusive board may mean shifting your board’s culture to accommodate both your new and existing directors’ needs. If your board is not already committed to diversity across the board, consider with what governance-focused DEI training is available to gain board competence in leveraging a wider range of skills. Your new directors, in comparison, will need targeted onboarding to ensure they can hit the ground running in their contribution.
Effective onboarding should include the importance of participation of all board members during meetings and that sharing a different perspective is both welcome and encouraged.
Pairing new board members with a director who is already familiar with the board will also help better integrate new perspectives. The partnership of new and longer serving board members provides an intentional sounding board for directors to ask questions and learning from each other. Offer to fill any skill gaps that new board member may have through mentorship, training and networking opportunities to unlock your board members’ greatest potential.
Keep in mind that a fully inclusive board isn’t going to happen overnight once you introduce more diverse directors. It takes time to create a supportive culture that makes everyone feel, and know, their perspectives are highly valued.
Inclusivity is a collective effort that comes from a place of curiosity and openness to new perspectives and ideas.
Opening up your board to a variety of new perspectives can inject a fresh innovative energy. Finding productive ways to act upon it will ultimately make the biggest difference to your board’s impact.
When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance, Harvard Business Review (2019)
Delivering Through Diversity, McKinsey (2018)
Maximizing the Benefits of Board Diversity: Lessons Learned from Activist Investing, Harvard Law School Forum of Corporate Governance