Martin Rowinski is the CEO of Boardsi, a corporate board recruitment company, and an investor and author.
Diversity is more than a buzzword. Back in 2015, McKinsey & Company called it “a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.” McKinsey’s research also found that companies scoring the highest for racial, ethnic and gender diversity are more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.
There are benefits to age diversity as well, including increased productivity and reduced employee turnover, both of which can affect a company’s bottom line. Even socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, mindset and cultural background are ranges of diversity that can arm any team, including a company board, with a competitive advantage.
In fact, diversity and inclusion at the board level can echo through the rest of the company and set a positive example for diversity-building among its people. The more diversity of skills and experience you have on your board, the more equipped your company will be to come out of difficult times on top, and the greater the team synergy in driving the benefits of diversity.
Diversity should do more than check boxes.
When it comes to building diversity on a board, look for the right balance of diverse candidates who bring both experience and alignment. Hiring for the sake of diversity may come across as inauthentic and just for show to employees, which makes those diverse hires unlikely to bring the benefits of true diversity. Do your due diligence and focus on the quality of candidates as a whole—their diversity should be a factor, but not the determining one.
‘We Can Control Our Own Destiny’: John Zimmer Shares Lyft’s Vision For The Company’s Future And $1 Trillion Market Opportunity
Four New Microsoft Surface Computers Plus A Folding Phone—And Other Small Business Tech News
The LSE Alumni Turning Their University Into A Startup Powerhouse
If a candidate brings diversity but lacks experience, take a deeper dive instead of dismissing them outright. Find out what else they might bring to the table: Are they willing to take initiative, learn and become more effective in their roles? Will they accept mentorship from existing board members, or will their ego get in their way? Do they have expertise in an area that can support the company’s trajectory?
When you take care in considering the diversity of your board, you gain the advantage of that diversity for advising on new hires and spreading diversity the right way through the rest of the company.
Good conflict results in thoughtful decision making.
Diversity can lead to positive business outcomes, but they’re not guaranteed. With greater diversity can also come greater conflict. Diverse board members can cause problems for your company or bring solutions to get through them—the key is making sure that all candidates align with the company mission, vision and values.
With everyone aligned around what matters most, acknowledging differences and allowing multicultural viewpoints is less likely to result in harmful conflict and more likely to yield healthy and beneficial discourse (i.e., good conflict).
When people who have different upbringings—whether they are from different generations, are of different races or have different socioeconomic backgrounds—have the same conversations, they will often have different views on the same problems. I grew up in Poland under Communist rule, where opportunities were scarce, but I’ve found that my perspective is a personal asset.
A company full of leaders who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouths may not understand certain events like recessions in the way that I do, but by combining my diversity with theirs, we can see more together. When everyone is diverse, no one way is the right or wrong way. Aligned around the same goals, diverse people can work together to form the best possible way.
Set an example for company synergy.
When you successfully find diverse candidates from inside and, importantly, outside the company who align with the rest of the board and company goals, the rest of the team will be more likely to see that integration as authentic. Make sure that diverse members brought onto the board have chemistry with existing members. Designate mentors who can take them under their wings and get them involved to demonstrate to employees that the company takes diversity seriously. The extent to which employees value diversity depends on the actions and examples set by company leadership.
I’ve found that when candid conversations about diversity happen at the board level, they tend to result in more conscientious policy creation from leadership and practices with inclusive language, greater consideration for employee safety, and recognition of belief systems and important dates. Diverse leadership also can ensure that managers are equipped with the tools and skills needed to manage diverse teams. As board diversity takes more perspectives into account and represents and acknowledges them in their decision making, more people across the company can see the value of diversity and believe in its importance.
Whether you look at a board as a company’s foundation or its peak, setting the example at the board level can result in company synergy around diversity to yield more thoughtful decisions companywide. Diversity at all levels is good for business, but to get companywide buy-in on its importance, everyone needs to see the authentic need that diverse candidates fill and the potential that their perspectives bring to the table. A diverse board can help drive that message home.