The matter of diversity in corporate boardrooms has been the topic of much debate in recent years. Some people have claimed that the die is cast: that the presence of women (or some other group) in the boardroom leads to increased business performance. Others are less convinced. I have contributed to the debate on a few occasions, both as a panelist and in print. You can read some of my comments here and here, or use the search box to find other articles on diversity.
While the debate goes on in the trenches, some commentators have begun to stand back, to offer a more holistic perspective. Jeff Jacoby, for example, has just written this article, published in the The Boston Globe. His balanced summary highlights various aspects of the debate. Two sentences stand out:
"The evidence that more female board members means higher corporate profits is murky at best."
"Either way, what no study has managed to nail down is causation."
With these comments and others in the article, Jacoby has put his finger on the core of the issue. Board effectiveness (especially any relationship between board attributes and subsequent firm performance) is a complex issue. No one structure, composition or set of behaviours fits all situations (much less all companies).
Looking ahead, the challenge is two-fold. First, everyone who is interested and capable of making an effective contribution in the boardroom needs to be encouraged to offer themselves as a serious director candidate. Shareholders (or their nomination committees) need to work hard to find and appoint the best candidates—regardless of any physical attribute or notional diversity variable. The ability to govern well in the team environment must be the compelling basis of assessment. Second, the rhetoric needs to continue to mature, beyond the blunt instrument of observable characteristics to focus the subtleties of what actually matters—the capabilities of directors (individually and collectively) and the quality of boardroom interaction and debate as boards consider options; make strategic decisions; and, pursue performance goals in the context of the agreed purpose of the company.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.