Board diversity and fostering inclusive and accessible work environments has been in the spotlight in recent years, not only because of the bottom-line benefits but because improving diversity is the right thing to do.
Organisations are focused on creating Boards that contain a variety of perspectives. This can help their organisation foster top-down diversity as well as serve a wider variety of communities
In 2023, fostering Board diversity will be a vital part of good governance, and there are a number of ways in which you can achieve a diverse and inclusive Board.
What is Board Diversity?
Board diversity refers to a Board having a wide range of backgrounds within itself, specifically making sure that those from “protected characteristics” are included and not discriminated against.
In the UK, there are nine ‘protected characteristics’ according to the 2010 Equality Act. Boards should make an active effort to ensure they are not unlawfully discriminating against any these groups:
- Gender reassignment
- Being married or in a civil partnership
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave
- Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Creating an inclusive team is not just about representation. It is about creating a workplace where diverse abilities can thrive. It's not only about meeting 'targets', but comprehending the bigger picture, where everyone is valued and respected.
Why Is Fostering Board Diversity So Important?
Board diversity is fundamental to the running of an effective organisation, and it is important not only for the employees and workplace culture, but for the company as a whole. A diverse Board can mean a number of things, including:
- Access to a wider range of skills
- Ensuring creativity across the Board
- Encouraging a more productive work environment
- Creating happier employees
- Understanding your customers
- Tackling prejudice and discrimination
- Enhancing your reputation
Simply put, diversity is having a variety of individuals in your organisation; inclusion is ensuring they collaborate effectively. There is no single solution to ensuring diversity and inclusion, but there are practical measures you can take to improve.
How To Foster Board Diversity?
Creating a diverse board, that is an inclusive and safe environment for its Board Members, can be a challenge. There are several ways an organisation can establish and ensure an accessible Board, that can both benefit the company and its employees.
1) Securing commitments to Board Diversity
Securing a commitment is essential. Diversity starts with the Board and management getting the necessary resources and concentrating on particular efforts. If it doesn’t already exist, develop a board diversity policy that can start the process of fostering inclusion.
2) Holding inclusive meetings
Having a diverse Board and management team is not enough. At a Board meeting, you need to make sure that all board members have a chance to speak, and that differing opinions are raised and reviewed.
To achieve the best collaboration, meetings must be accessible as well as diverse. This means the whole team should be able to take part in the conversation.
3) Expanding the recruitment process
Forming a task force to broaden recruitment is a definitive way of thinking outside the Boardroom and expanding recruitment effort. Boards should research MBA programs, leadership courses, nearby universities/colleges in order to make sure they are casting a wider net.
Board Members might also attend meetings of a company affinity group, attend unconscious bias training, or serve as a mentor or sponsor to diverse employees.
Another way to expand recruitment efforts is to diversify the nominating and/or hiring committees. Having existing Board Members from underrepresented groups serve on these committees is likely to increase the chances that new employees and members will be diverse.
4) Running diversity audits
Boards should make active efforts in analysing their organisation's makeup, and comparing workforce and Board demographics. If there are any disparities, recruitment efforts should be reviewed. An audit shows the Board progress as well as improvement possibilities.
5) Adding new seats to the board
Most Boards have very low turnover, so it means diversifying a Board can be difficult. A simple way to address this is to add a new Board seat without waiting for a Board Member to step down or retire.
In the long term, Boards should consider addressing low turnover rates.
6) Encouraging transparency
Companies, under corporate governance codes, are obliged to disclose their diversity policies.
The UK Corporate Governance Code (2010), for example, stipulates that companies are required to: (i) incorporate diversity as a consideration in making board appointments; and (ii) disclose in their annual reports describing the board’s policy on diversity, as well as its progress in achieving its objectives.
This approach creates both transparency and accountability, and that kind of disclosure leads to action.
7) Imposing diversity quotas
Imposing quotas refers to the mandatory requirement of appointing a certain number of directors with different attributes to the Board. This can be a surefire way to establish diversity within the Boardroom.
However, it is important to remember that quotas do nothing about the day-to-day functioning of the workplace, and that meeting quotas is the bare minimum a Board can do to foster diversity. Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace takes more than fulfilling basic requirements.
8) Tracking progress
Boards should monitor progress regularly and should consider using a diversity tracker to disclose their metrics publicly, as another step towards transparency. This demonstrates a commitment to fostering inclusion, as well as holding the organisation accountable and highlighting areas to improve.
Boards should be able to see how the organisation is making progress, but also be flexible in changing their approach. One way to do this is by having regular Board Evaluations and also wider Employee Surveys to ensure that the Board aligns with expectations.
What Progress Has Been Made, And What More Is There To Do?
Having a diverse Board of directors is becoming more important to businesses, especially large public companies, as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are moving up on the corporate agenda. Still, progress is slow.
Egon Zehnder, a global management consulting and executive recruitment firm, discovered that one in ten large international companies had no female board members. Additionally, in 2022, only 26.9% of Board seats worldwide were held by women, which is still an increase from 23.3% in 2020.
Too often, organisations mistake diversity goals for embracing representation — so-called “board washing”.
Today’s Boards are realising that their role in fostering a diverse and inclusive culture goes beyond simply making sure that the Board itself is diverse, and that they should use their roles to increase Board diversity throughout all levels of the organisation.
How can Convene help you improve the diversity of your business?
Now more than ever, diversity and accessibility are the key to productive Board meetings. You want to get the most from your employees, and they want the most from you. Inclusive software is at the very centre of this relationship.
At Convene, we understand the importance of this, and our award winning Board portal is designed to simplify your Board meetings for everyone involved. Convene is now also available integrated with Microsoft Teams, so you can enjoy all your meeting capabilities on one platform.
From planning the agenda to establishing an audit trail, our comprehensive software is there for every step of the journey. When communication can flow seamlessly, different people can come together and speak with one voice. That is, after all, the point of a board.
Find out more about our intuitive software here or book a demo today!