Why diverse boards are best!

03 August 2020

By Sarah Knight

Why diverse boards are best!

If board members are very similar, they’re very likely to see situations and solutions in a similar way. Some would argue that the benefit here could be quick and united decisions, others would say that this ‘clone like thinking’ could hold a company back in terms of how they solve problems and approach innovation. It stands to reason, therefore, that a company with a diverse board or senior management team will grow at a quicker rate than one without – food for thought for any hiring company.

Something that hit home for me about just how important diversity is, was a story about the CIA and how they missed vital clues leading up to 9-11 because they were all white men, with a similar background, who thought the same way and suffered ‘collective blindness’. Since then, the CIA have actively sought more diversity so that they can see a bigger picture.

It’s not just diversity that matters, there still needs to be the right culture to ensure performance, of course, however it’s useful to bear in mind that diversity comes in lots of different forms.

The Equality Act makes it clear that you can’t discriminate against anyone due to factors such as their age, race, gender, disability, religion etc – both in and out of the workplace. And some of these have specific targets, such as gender diversity, to make sure they remain a priority.

However, there are others factors that can come in to play when considering who to hire or promote internally, in order to achieve a truly diverse leadership team.

Having worked with a huge number of organisations, recruiting for all different levels, I completely respect and understand the need to have a benchmark, or a ‘wish list’ in terms of who’s going to be a good fit for a role. However, having a strict ‘tick box’ approach when it comes to which candidates to progress, or not, can mean missing out on the potential to have someone on the team, who will increase diversity for the better and have a positive impact on the status-quo.

Here’s some of the areas to consider when thinking about diversity during the hiring process, over and above those set out in legislation.

Education

Of course, for certain roles, it’s essential to have the right qualifications in place in order to do a job. However, having caveats around the type or level of qualification an individual needs to have – or even where these qualifications have been gained – can in some cases be short-sighted.

Skills

As with education, there are some skills that form an essential part of a role. However, should you overlook, for example, a candidate who according to their CV, is over qualified (check out our piece on ‘Finding meaning in work’)? On the flip side, if one or two boxes haven’t been ‘ticked’ skills-wise, could it be worthwhile exploring how an individual could be developed to get them to the level that’s required, so that you don’t miss out on someone who’d otherwise add significant value to your organisation?

Adding some people in to your hiring process, who don’t 100% fit the criteria you set out at beginning, can help reinforce or even slightly redefine who’s going to be a great fit.

Industry experience

Many companies will look to hire someone from within their industry in the belief that the incumbent will ‘get them’ and what the company do – this can equally be viewed as a negative in terms of a person’s thinking or assumptions. There are certainly benefits to bringing people in to an organisation with different industry experience who come armed with different knowledge in terms of processes and standards for example.

Life experiences

This is about placing value on different lived experiences, such as background and upbringing. For example, according to Real Leaders, “In the U.S., immigrants are almost twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born U.S. citizens. They also represent 27.5% of the countries’ entrepreneurs but only around 13% of the population.”

Our life experiences – both in and out of the workplace - undoubtedly help shape who we are and how we approach different situations. Of course, digging deep in to a person’s personal life would be inappropriate however trying to get to know someone on a human level, can help you better understand how they will add value, over and above the skills and experience they bring with them.

Senior members of an organisation, with experience of different geographies - globally and UK-wide – can help broaden a company’s understanding of its operating environment and cultural nuances too and introduce new approaches which work well in other locations.

Personality type

There are benefits to having a broader personality mix in to your organisation and not necessarily being guided purely by the perceived cultural fit. There are plenty of ways to dig deeper to gauge someone’s true personality both in the everyday and in terms of how they are under pressure – different personality types will react and think in different ways, which should be considered when building the perfect senior team.

Of course, this is just a starter and there are many other areas you can consider to increase the diversity within your senior team, to get the right blend of people in place, to optimise your organisation’s performance and growth opportunities.

Just some food for thought!

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