A number of our clients have ambitions to take on non-executive work, often saying that they would like to join the boards of listed companies. In doing so they raise the subject of diversity and see this as a limiting factor if they are male and sometimes if they are female.
We often ask ourselves in this context: what is the essence of diversity and what does it represent? Gender is only one element of diversity and our experience of working with Boards and senior management teams is that, above all, they need diversity of thought, particularly when the organisation itself is moving into a new phase of development.
One company we know well has a strong footprint in Europe and has recently made a large acquisition in the US. Apart from gender diversity, they also need Board members with experience of operating in a US business context. So other types of diversity come into play here: of geography, culture and language, above all to ensure that all possible pools of talent within and outside the organisation can be accessed.
We have seen a potential trap for Boards attempting to create and maintain diversity: in focusing primarily on the need to be diverse, the outcome can be unintentionally to select people who, because of their obvious diversity traits, quickly become “overboarded” with roles. They become professional non- executive directors and lose the essence of the diversity that made them attractive candidates in the first place. For such people, either in-role or aspiring to Board positions, it is important to maintain
their ability to bring fresh, lateral thinking and innovation without becoming excessively focused on the area of governance which is expanding all the time.