Making the Move: Are you future-proofing your board through diversity?

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”— Maya Angelou
We’ve all heard the stories and read the articles about the importance of board diversity. Boards that are diverse make better decisions because they can better represent everyone who matters – that’s right, all stakeholders – including customers, employees, communities and shareholders. But for many companies public and private alike, questions remain about how to find such candidates and how to strategically place them. Some even think such candidates are elusive or non-existent. The reality is that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are three things to consider when implementing diversity to make it a strategic move that generates valuable results.

Separate substance from symbolism. Endeavoring to diversify your board may be a big task, specifically if the majority (or all) of your existing members mirror one another. Yet it’s critical that the moves you make to adjust the board’s composition are executed for the right reasons. It’s not about choosing candidates based on their diversity alone. It’s about creating a diverse candidate pool filled with experienced and skilled professionals who can truly add value to your board. This requires discipline and careful planning. Start by mapping out your current and desired composition mix (be honest!) to pinpoint any gaps between where you are and where you need to be. Then, identify the talent pools that exist to fill those gaps and build pipelines to them. Finally, develop a transition plan for how and when to incorporate such candidates to achieve your goals.

Look beyond the CEO bias. Tapping into your network to find CEOs and other C-level candidates for your board is no longer how you’ll get ahead. After all, the supply of traditional candidates, or sitting CEOs , is finite. Board search is thus self-limited when only considering these candidates. In order for companies to succeed in the coming decade and beyond, they must recruit non-traditional individuals to fill board seats. During this time, the demand for new directors will increase as tenured directors increasingly “age out” of service. You can expect term limits to gain popularity in order to keep fresh ideas flowing in the boardroom. Plus, there are super skills, including data security, enterprise risk management, digital and social trends, and other emerging topics, that often transcend the expertise of CEO-board members coming from professionals with other, more diverse backgrounds.

Have the courage to play to win. You’ve heard the cliché “you can’t win if you don’t play.” It’s a fitting description of working to diversify your board. When we look at our own networks, it is human nature that they are often a reflection of us. However, this is not enough going forward. You need the courage and bravery it takes to build new networks, meeting and vetting new faces. Change management is never easy but certainly necessary. If you liken spotting diverse, qualified candidates to finding unicorns in the field, you must understand that’s a bad metaphor. This database of professionals exists. I’ve seen them, met them, and helped companies small and large connect with the ones who are a great fit for their needs. Most importantly, when you find them, you’ll discover how these capable, available candidates can make your board stronger and more sustainable.

Using the same, tired old candidate selection process is no longer an option. Tweaking that by layering in a diversity factor isn’t either. Nor can you solely rely on referrals alone. If you don’t aggressively seek out candidates, you may trade off diversity for excellence. And I’ll tell you now that continued success requires an “AND,” not an “OR,” of those traits.

Now’s the time to make your move and future-proof your board with skilled, engaged, diverse members. If you don’t, you’ll regret it sooner than you might think.

Karen Fenaroli leverages 25+ years of CEO tenure, executive search consulting, and leadership experience to help high-growth businesses identify and evaluate critical board member and executive placements. As the most recognized expert and aggregator of diverse board talent in the country, Karen is sought after by the boardroom, the Fortune 1000, and private firms alike for direction and vision when implementing progressive methodologies that make it possible to achieve excellence and enhance the bottom line. Karen is the founder and CEO of Fenaroli & Associates. The firm’s U.S. presence consists of four offices located in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and Dallas.

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