In my earlier posts on this subject, I reviewed what’s happening around the world with board quotas right now and what the people I polled had to say on the topic. Today I want to talk specifically about a solution to the gender disparity problem on boards in North America since our governments have not implemented gender diversity quotas.
I sense that the women who chimed in on my poll are neutral or in favor of board quotas in the interest of making progress with gender diversity in leadership positions, particularly in the boardroom– that they are ready to claim their roles as serious contributors building and growing sustainable organizations.
The “problem” with quotas is that they’re a solution presented by governments, that if we are to be in support of them, we have to agree to the added complexity of government intervention in the management of businesses. Before accepting quotas, we need to ask if the foreseeable ramifications have been fully assessed (including eventual obsolescence and possible counter-productivity), and how the quota structure proposes to make boards, directors and organizations fully accountable for good governance. I believe in making individuals and leaders accountable to grow, evolve and take the lead on overdue matters.
In 2015, it is my opinion that as leaders we need to demonstrate our emotional intelligence and intellectual capacity to fully embrace each other beyond gender, age and ethnicity. We can’t lead with fear and scrutiny as our levers; we must lead as evolved beings rooted in the present with the future in mind. All leaders need to “take the lead” with full accountability, thoughtfully addressing diversity within our boards.
I am dumbfounded that we’ve gotten stuck and haven’t yet wisely opened the doors for highly qualified women—that we still haven’t fully assessed the impact of this on our competitive edge.
Don’t believe that a lack of diversity is bad for business? Check out this article hot off the press from Mining Weekly, “Mining companies risk competitive edge without more women on board.” In the article, Patrice Merrin, an accomplished Canadian Corporate Executive with a wealth of experience in the mining industry who is a corporate director on boards of major companies, is quoted having told an audience at the Women in Mining Toronto branch: “I am in favour of quotas as of 2018, if people do not shape up and increase the percentages in the boardroom. To an extent, I say that out of impatience and exasperation because this is not a supply problem [of notable candidates].”
While Merrin shared that the mining industry lags other sectors, I was encouraged that she highlighted elsewhere in her address that other sectors, such as consumer products and financial services (at least in Canada), have quite a strong representation (40-50%). I am, however, saddened that she is nearly ready to succumb to quota.
You might ask, “If not quotas, what can we do to improve diversity (gender and beyond) on boards?” Here’s my answer:
- Readily commit to advancing women in leadership and proactively tackling succession planning within corporations.
Organizations across industry sectors should be rewarded for diversity– not sanctioned or punished for a lack thereof. Metrics should be implemented to applaud organizations internally and externally:
– that have a clear process for mentoring the innovative and accomplished women who can impact their company’s success, thus creating a pipeline of talented women
– that recognize women leaders for their achievements internally and externally. The latter is key to raising their visibility amongst men and women outside the organization and outside their industry sector
– that contribute to a cross-pollination of talent, making a strategic investment in women and men from other industry sectors and other geographies
– that include women leaders as part of a clear succession plan, which is inclusive of women from inception
– that invest in women learning about boards, the responsibility of boards to shareholders and good governance.
We now have a real motivation to not procrastinate about sound succession planning—ensuring that women are equally evaluated. A thoughtful process will empower effective women in leadership from the bottom to the helm of the organization, and across industry sectors and geographies.
And, ladies, we must be realistically patient, as women have just begun being in leadership roles for multinational and global conglomerates. We will persevere!
- Education, effective governance training and mentorship will be more powerful tools in the process of pursuing and achieving greater diversity than quotas.
Rather than selecting the lone woman among 100 applicants for a board seat, I think boards around the globe would be better served by being forward thinkers in implementing ways to increase and measure the number of female applicants, to ensure that boards can more easily and effectively recruit the right talent and the best skills (inclusive of women and minorities), and that there is a process for all possible applicants (again, inclusive of women and minorities) to know about the boards they could join.
More women are networking with men, and more men are networking with women. There has to be a genuine commitment to wanting to support women. Many more men who have not been accustomed to collaborating with women in the boardroom will need to adapt, dropping judgments, old patterns and the idea that gender alone makes men more powerful and competitive.
Boards in search of new directors tend to be much more interested in candidates with prior board experience, and yet, every director has to have had a first board experience somehow. Boards need to trust women in their first opportunity.
- Today’s leaders need to take responsibility for leading the charge towards this important change.
The research is in, and diversity is beneficial to boards. In the interest of serving our organizations well, today’s leaders must prioritize including a variety of voices on boards—including the voices of women. Leaders, I challenge you to become catalysts in the advancement of gender diversity on corporate boards of directors. Tap into your network, today, to identify stellar candidates and be part of the evolution for opening the way for future generations of female leaders (which might include your sisters, daughters, granddaughters, partners, neighbors and friends).
These are some of my ideas for a solution. Now I’d like to hear from you.
- Do you believe government needs to get involved in the public and/or private sectors to ensure that we have good governance and appropriate gender diversity in the boardroom?
- Should corporations be punished with sanctions when they don’t meet quotas?
- Should public organizations be audited for diversity compliance?
- Should stock and securities exchanges address diversity-related issues in listing requirements or recommended corporate governance codes?
- Should stock and securities exchanges mandate specific quotas for the number of women directors?
I am not in support of quotas; in my opinion it is not an evolved approach exuding wisdom. I may be an idealist, thinking that we can evolve with pure intentions, but I don’t want our efforts to be motivated just by regulations. Organizational leadership and governance are way too complicated as it is– often because human beings get in the way of the natural flow that should prevail.
As a society, we need an awareness and consciousness of naturally embracing heterogeneity: domain skills and experience, industry, international, gender, ethnicity and age. We shouldn’t just open the doors for women to achieve a quota, but because their participation is invaluable.
I look forward to working with more boards that are optimally diverse for good governance!