Over the years, the boardroom diversity discourse has matured: from women on boards, to other forms of observable diversity, and now diversity of experience and thought. Diversity of thought is perhaps the zenith (but difficult to measure), because complex problems—the type that boards most frequently need to consider and resolve—need to be investigated from many different angles. Rarely does one (only) solution exist. More often, multiple responses are available. The challenge for an effective board is to elicit a full range of options, and analyse them carefully before making the best possible decision. Different perspectives are crucial if high quality decisions are to be produced.
The boardroom diversity agenda is laudable because it shines the light on board performance. However, a darker perspective exists, as I discovered last week when the following comments were made in my hearing.
A person was recounting to their colleague a recent experience as a candidate for a board appointment. He said that he'd been short-listed following a rather intensive initial interview and discovery process, and that things were looking good with an interview with the full board expected. But then the discussion took an unexpected turn: the storyteller related these comments from the appointment committee chair:
You are a strong candidate, perhaps the best. Your skills and expertise, background and approach to team-based decision-making are great. However, we will not be taking you any further because we need to be seen to be meeting public expectations by advancing the diversity mix on the board. I hope you understand.
I walked away, stunned. Is this an isolated case of reverse discrimination (I hope so), or some new form of 'normal', a modern-day stocking of Noah's Ark?
To be blunt it is likely worse than what Peter claims above. The root cause of the argument results from real confusion over what corporate governance is; why it is needed; and, what it can contribute actually to business. Once these questions are answered then diversity ought to be embraced. Providing we know and understand what diversity is required - and that is unlikely to be well received for it is diversity of thought (within some reason) as opposed to what directors look like (the measurable visible traits) that appears to be important. But as the understanding of corporate governance rapidly shifts to the point where 'governance' is promoted as being a panacea for all of societal ills the debate on diversity - and what that diversity means to corporate governance - goes with it.
The Dominion Post (Saturday 28 January, 2017, p. C5) leads an interview (Question & Answers) between their reporter Katarina Williams and John Fiso with the heading, "Why we need more Pacific Islanders on our boards". John's response to the question of whether or not he would like to see more Pacific Islanders in the country's boardroom is, however, exactly what is required. He stated that, "... can only change when our overall education achievement rates change and we have greater numbers of Pacific people owning businesses and in management and governance positions". He then went on to observe that, "... our lack of experiences in the private sector. Pacific people must be ambitious and confident enough to back their own skills and ideas".
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.