Hey, Corporations: Here's One Way to Think About Board Diversity

Here's a piece of advice for corporations: select your board members the same way you draft your fantasy football team.

Here's a piece of advice for corporations: select your board members the same way you draft your fantasy football team.

This easy change in mindset will allow us to stop spending time and money on the gender diversity conversation. Although companies continue to express their desire to diversify, most fall short and rely on their standard defense of choosing "the most qualified candidate regardless of race or gender."

When people are selecting their fantasy football team, do they go into the draft saying, "I will pick the 10 most qualified football players regardless of position?" Of course not.

They know they need to choose a quarterback, a kicker, a few wide receivers and running backs. But what if they decided those positions didn’t matter? "Let's just get the most qualified football players and put them all on the field." It doesn’t make sense, right? So, statements claiming “we nominate the most qualified board member,” make just as little sense.

Choosing a board based on the diversity of the individuals will create a true emergent structure—one where the total equals more than the sum of the parts—and only then will your team be victorious.

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) recently published their report “Moving Interest To Action.” The report states that 77 percent of director candidates are identified through personal networking and not outside their immediate circles. Again, I’m reminded of my fantasy football picks. Each year, we choose players we know to be good—using last year’s statistics, information we know from the "experts"; we take into account injuries and other issues. The bottom line is we know the players. Sometimes, we choose players just because we like them. Every year, I draft Peyton Manning because we are both from Louisiana. Board selections aren’t too different; we chose people we know, people from our inner circle, and people like us, thus perpetuating the status quo.

Given that this selection process is clearly relational, it must be up to the nominating committee members to get to know a more diverse set of candidates. It will take more time, research and going outside their circle of friends to network. It might be uncomfortable, but it must be done to ensure our corporations have the best team.

Boards should set aside ample time to search for high potential diverse individuals within the companies they serve. This initiative doesn’t imply these candidates will rise to board positions within their own companies. However, the next time one of those board members gets the call from their buddy asking, “Do you know of a great diverse candidate for my board?” Now they can answer “Yes!”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.