Leading by Example: 3 Steps to Help Diversify Your Board of Directors

Fostering diversity within an organization requires more than just hiring individuals of different races, religions, genders, and expertise. True impact arrives when these individuals ascend to leadership positions, such as on a board of directors.

As it stands currently, the number of minorities with board seats illustrates that organizations aren’t prioritizing minority leadership the way they should be. For instance, I am an Asian American business leader and an entrepreneur, a demographic that accounted for only 8% of new board members at Fortune 500 companies in 2018. Among those same Fortune 500 companies, women of color hold just 4.6% of board seats, and Black professionals occupied a mere 3.3% of executive or senior leadership roles in 2018 despite accounting for a much more significant percentage of the population.

If the past few months of protests and activism have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t continue to ignore diversity issues. If you’re going to start somewhere, start with your board of directors.

Improving Diversity Within Your Startup’s Board

The companies that make diverse leadership a top-down initiative not only open themselves up to a wealth of new and different voices, but they also tend to enjoy greater financial growth. According to a McKinsey study, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to achieve financial returns that exceed the median for their industries. Organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity show even more promise — they are 35% more likely to see above-average financial returns.

To see these benefits — and countless others — take the following measures to build diversity into your board:

1. Think with compassion. You aren’t going to be able to hire your way to a diverse leadership team. The goal should be to create a culture and environment that appeals to a wide swath of potential leaders. Once you’ve established that, start identifying uniquely qualified people who can add value to your organization.

Creating this kind of environment starts with leadership. Leaders need to embrace inclusion and diversity, making it a tenet of the organization. If you’re just trying to check a box, you need to seriously reevaluate what your business hopes to gain by prioritizing diversity.

2. Take a hands-on approach. Fostering an inclusive culture that welcomes different perspectives is an excellent first step. But you can’t just sit back and hypothesize about the types of people who would fit in well at your company — go out and find them.

Too often, businesses rate candidate aptitudes for leadership based solely on their professional achievements and titles held, but this flawed recruiting strategy needs to be retired. Seek people who not only fit your company’s ideals and goals but who also can bring diverse perspectives to the table while contributing to the organization in new and positive ways.

3. Recognize your biases. As human beings, we are inherently biased. When considering your senior leadership or board members, it’s vital to set those conscious and unconscious preferences aside to make the best decisions for your organization.

Recognizing unconscious biases and actively thinking about why someone is a good fit for your leadership team can help combat the biological preference of similarity. Ask yourself questions like “Why does this candidate fit in here?” or “Who is responsible for making that decision?” Approaching the selection process with a blank slate is necessary if you want to hire the right candidates for the right reasons.

Diversity isn’t an item to cross out on your business’s to-do list — it’s essential for creating a viable company culture. Start at the top level of your company, bringing different perspectives and experiences to the leadership table to drive your business forward. If you want to continue your company’s upward trajectory, make diversity an integral part of your entire operation.

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Author: Kevin Xu

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