Appearing in Australian Institute of Management magazine, February 2017
Difference Makers: A Leader’s Guide to Championing Diversity in Boards
By Nicky Howe and Alicia Curtis
Major Street Publishing, $30, 272 pages, ISBN 9780994542403
Boards stand at the strategic pinnacle of a company but too often they can grow clubby and insular. This is a serious mistake, according to Howe (an academic specialising in leadership) and Curtis (a social entrepreneur with a string of awards under her belt). They provide data showing that boards that make an effort to embrace diversity have better outcomes than ones that do not, with a greater capacity to embrace new opportunities as well as anticipate emerging threats. Group-think is always a problem in a high-level team and a crucial role for the chair of the board is to take steps to pre-empt it.
Howe and Curtis acknowledge that it is not easy to build a board where there is a balance of diversity and experience. Even if a board decides that it needs to broaden its membership finding the right people can be tough. Diversity is often considered in terms of gender and ethnicity, and while these are important going for an injection of youth can pay dividends. The recruitment committee should be willing to reach down into the company to look at people who have shown a capacity for innovation, but when it comes to looking outside a good idea is to keep an eye on lists of award-winners and young people who can stand up before an audience to make their point. The key is to be willing to consciously look for people who will bring different views to the table.
Of course, recruiting a new person onto a board is only part of the battle. If they are not experienced they will probably need mentoring in their legal responsibilities as well as board procedures. The chair is usually the best person to help them get up to speed but all members have a role to play.
Difference Makers provides practical advice on all this, with useful summaries and examples. For a board that wants to ensure it is ready for the future, this is a solid place to start.