Governance leaders identify ways to increase board diversity
As the call for companies to further diversify their boards of directors grows, with pressure from firms like Nasdaq, Goldman Sachs and Vanguard, a new report from Ellig Group, a leader in recruiting and onboarding executive talent, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which has 300,000+ executive and HR members worldwide, captures insights from top CEOs and board leaders on how companies can begin to change today.
The report, titled Bold Leaders: Nine Actionable Solutions to Reimagining Board Diversity, features 20 accomplished CEOs and board members who identified actionable solutions boards can make to ensure lasting change.
Describing the mounting pressure on boards to diversify as a “movement” rather than a moment, Janice Ellig, CEO, Ellig Group, predicts there will be “more legislative and regulatory action around board diversity”, pointing to Nasdaq's proposal to change its listing standards.
Ellig admits that there has been steady progress at the board level for certain groups like women, although concedes the progress is slow with the number of women on boards having had “less than a 1% average annualised increase over the past 25 years”.
]For other minority groups, however, there is little progress at all, “and this is just one of the many ways in which companies need to address the issue of racial equity in their organisations”.
According to Cindie Jamieson, chair of the board of Tractor Supply Company and a director of Big Lots, Inc. and Darden Restaurants, in order to get to the diverse representation boards want to achieve, it’s about more than intention. “I think it's about courage. If you're in a leadership role on a board, it's really important that you do what you need to do to create these openings when they need to be created.”
With the HR profession committed to helping boards and CEOs achieve these important initiatives, they offer these clear and practical steps.
9 actionable solutions to reimagining board diversity
Nine CEOs and board leaders provide insight into making sustainable changes to boards in order to make them more diverse.
- Diversify the Nominating and Governance committee first
"Once in that role [of being on the Nominating and Governance committee], I would always make sure that the slate for new directors includes women; today I push for 50% of the slate candidates to be women."
Maggie Wilderotter – Chairman and CEO, Grand Reserve Inn; director, Lyft, Inc., HYPE, Costco Wholesale Corporation, DocuSign (Chair), Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, Tanium Inc., Sana Biotechnology, Sonoma Biotherapeutics
- Increase transparency
“The goal needs to be public – not just within the company – because then we will be held to a standard of our own setting."
Kay Koplovitz – Chairman & Co-founder, Springboard Enterprises; director, ION Media Networks, Veniam
- Demand diverse slates
"If you think about it, there is no other part of our business where we engage advisors and accept five different options when only one truly achieves the objective. Why would search be any different than any other work that we judge based on the outcomes? The stakes and the desired outcome are just as clear." Stephan Tanda – President & CEO, AptarGroup, Inc.; director, AptarGroup, Ingredion Incorporated
- Refresh the board
"Individual directors have an obligation to the board that they look in the mirror on any given day and ask themselves, 'Are you bringing your A game?'"
Les Brun – Chairman and CEO, SARR Group, LLC; Broadridge Financial Solutions (Lead Director), CDK Global Inc. (Chair), Merck & Co. (Lead Director), Corning Inc., Footprint International Holdco, Inc.
- Sponsor/Develop diverse executive talent
"CEOs and board members have incredible influence; sponsorship at that level will open doors for board-ready, C-suite leaders within the company looking for their first board role."
Nicole Sandford – EVP and Board Advisory Leader, Ellig Group.
- Add a seat
"If the leader is committed, if we believe in it and we want to execute, we do it even if it means adding a seat. The talent is out there."
Truett Tate – Chairman of the Board, QBE North America; director, Reference Point (Chair), FIMBA (Chair), Medicus (Chair), The Social Book Club (Chair), Equal Future
- Refuse a board
"Would I join a board that wasn't diverse today? Honestly, if a CEO does not have the spirit of intent to make that change, count me out."
Richard Davis – CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation; former Executive Chairman, CEO & President, U.S. Bank; director, Dow Inc., Mastercard Incorporated
- Open the aperture
"Intentionality is really critical. For so long, we heard 'we can't find candidates.' It was all about the 'can'ts.' We just decided that diversity matters and found great candidates. In the end, you can't give up."
Pat Russo – Board Chair, Hewlett Packard Enterprise; director, KKR & Co., General Motors, Merck & Co.
- Broaden the network
"As directors, we have to ensure that we do the hard work around identifying strong candidates and not bias ourselves by shortcutting the process and defaulting to those that we already have relationships with." Dawn Zier – former C EO, Nutrisystem; director, The Hain Celestial Group, Spirit Airlines, Prestige Consumer Healthcare
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.