How to Improve Board Diversity

I recently wrote about my thoughts on board diversity. To follow on from that post, I thought it useful to follow it up with some thoughts on how exactly you can proactively improve the diversity on your board.

First; what do we mean by board diversity? We take a broad definition of diversity, one that encompasses gender, culture, age, thinking, experience, and expertise, amongst many other things. You Legal‘s Sarah Bartholomeusz sums it up nicely:

“A board with different points of view can provide a variety of different options for problem solving.  The best example I have heard of how this works is this: if you are from the U.S. and you run out of ketchup you will reach for the next available alternative – say mustard or mayonnaise.  If you’re from the U.K. the alternative might well be vinegar or pickles.

We use our frame of reference when we solve problems.  So, if you place an American and a Brit into the same ketchup crisis you will increase your chances of finding an acceptable solution!”

Understand Basic Director Responsibilities

Before you search out candidates for your board, start to articulate what the responsibilities are of the directors on your board. These include the traditional ones (i.e. risk management, strategy, compliance, hiring/firing/monitoring CEO, etc.) and the modern requirements (i.e. cyber and information security, corporate social responsibility, etc.). These are the minimum standards that all board members need to meet.

What does the company need over the next three to five years?

Looking at the organisation’s competitive and market landscape, as well as the general business environment and economic climate, develop a list of skills, knowledge, and expertise that the organisation will need over the medium term future. In particular, consider innovation and technology; will you be the disruptor or will you be disrupted?

For example, do you need board members with experience and expertise in: acquisitions, innovation processes, measuring and managing the impact and progress of innovation, etc.?

Conducting a skills audit of the current board with these medium-term considerations in mind will highlight where the gaps are that need to be replaced (for retiring board members) or added.

How can the board be more effective?

Hopefully your board already has a regular conversation about how it could perform better as a team and to meet the organisation’s needs. Use this conversation as a means of understanding the type of board candidate(s) you seek out. Think of the type of personality, decision-making style, questioning ability, temperament, and courage your board needs to lift its performance.

Encourage Board Refreshment

A stale board runs a stale business. The fish rots from the head.

Not enough board refreshment risks creating an environment of groupthink, stale strategies, and poor business performance.

There are four ways to combat this: a strong Chair; policies for maximum director terms; recruiting directors who don’t run on ego alone; and regular board and director performance reviews.

Board refreshment opens up regular opportunities for the organisation to bring in new directors who can meet the evolving current and future needs of the organisation. Vital for survival and thriving in the future.

Plan for Succession

Having a board that has an open dialogue on director turnover (based on performance and retirement) enables succession to happen in a planned manner. This allows the board to approach director recruitment and director role shifting in a more strategic manner, without the panic of having to find someone at short notice. This is particularly important for key board and committee positions.

Set Board Diversity Goals

This is an opportunity for the board to demonstrate organisation and community leadership by setting goals around its own diversity. Follow through by proactively working towards them.

Draw Candidates from a Wide Range of Sources

I have written extensively on how to approach director recruitment beyond the traditional “who do I know” methodology. These posts here, here, and here are good places to start gaining some ideas on how you can cast your board recruitment net wider and engage more diverse board candidates.

Deepen your Candidate Pool

In addition to seeking directors from a wide range of sources, make sure your final candidate pool is not a reflection of your conscious and unconscious biases. What I mean by that is to make sure your board candidate pool is not filled with carbon copies of you or the existing board members. Use the skills matrix and your diversity goals as a framework to assess your short-list. If you’re not attracting a diverse audience consider going back to the drawing board – Do you need to re-write the ad? Do you need to advertise in a different location? Can you utilise social media to draw out candidates not found via traditional sources?


Board diversity across many factors is something that we should strive to achieve. It makes for a much more interesting and rewarding board experience and outcomes for the organisation.

What will you do to help build your board diversity?

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