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Board Diversity: Strategies for Building a Diverse Pipeline

Only 33% of board directors in Europe are female. But ethnic and racial representation on boards is even further behind. As of March 2021, almost a fifth of FTSE 100 boards had no minority members.  

Baroness Young of Hornsey, member of the House of Lords, non-executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC and Chancellor of the University of Nottingham; and Larissa Keijzer, Executive Director and Regional Head of EMEA and CIS for Grant Thornton International, gathered at Diligent’s 2021 Modern Governance Europe event to share their thoughts on how boards can turn talk into action when it comes to diversity.   

Accelerate Diversity by Emphasising ROI 

Employees, partners and even clients have higher expectations on diversity than ever before, according to Young. In order to take action on a better, more diverse future for your organisation, Young recommends showcasing for the board how diversity can generate a return.  

“Investors and shareholders are wanting to see some sort of return around this whole agenda of environmental sustainability, social justice, if you like, and governance,” Young says. “And I think that fitting those three together is incredibly important.” 

Diversity Should Be a Daily Priority Now and in the Future 

Young added that she faced barriers known to many women: needing to simultaneously assert herself in the boardroom yet not becoming too visible. Keijzer added that though she was raised to believe she could do anything she set her mind to, this didn’t at first hold true when she entered professional services.  

“If you have a more diverse workplace, that’s hard work for everyone involved, but it’s a huge payoff,” Keijzer says. “It is the easiest leading change if people want to get away from something. But a lot of people used to like the status quo and that is what’s making the diversity march quite hard still today.” 

Business Should Refine How They Find Talent 

Both Young and Keijzer agree that a diverse pipeline exists. Keijzer says that 50% of university graduates are female, and their scores are often higher than their male counterparts. Young recommends that organisations refine how they evaluate talent.  

“Think about the kind of qualities and attributes that you want from a board member, rather than thinking about what the person who you want to fill that position looks like, or even what their educational background might be,” says Young. “There are all kinds of experiences that people have had where they bring extra value onto a board, because they’re bringing a different perspective.” 

The Board Sets the Tone on Diversity 

Keijzer says that boards and leadership teams should be the ones to create a culture of diversity throughout the organisation. This means not only representing a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and identities on the board, but also encouraging open-mindedness at all levels of the business. Keijzer recommends that boards start by evaluating the skills they already have on their board, then setting a strategy for growth.  

“What skills do you need in each of the roles that you have in a board? What is your strategy? What do you need to achieve the strategy? And then, what is the best person looking at all the other characteristics and skills that you already have in your board?” Keijzer says. “So diversity becomes almost like a no-brainer from an objective perspective, but it does start with changing the mindset of the leaders, changing the tone of voice.” 

Watch the full session to learn more about building a more diverse pipeline for your own organisation.  

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