Strength in board diversity

Board diversity matters. Indisputably, as Simon Blake, deputy chair at Stonewall, wrote in our November 2018 CT Brief: ‘Diversity brings strength and creativity.’

He added: ‘Diverse boards bring different viewpoints and experience, helping to manage risk effectively.’ Collective recognition of the inherent value of diversity is changing board recruitment.

Although there is some way to go for many organisations, there is every prospect that boards of the future will be much more diverse. But is amassing a collection of individuals with diverse characteristics enough to allow organisations to realise the benefits of diverse boards?

Professor John Carver wrote about boards as incompetent groups of competent people. This is often used as a shorthand for the fact that we must not – in our laudable rush to populate boards with highly skilled people – lose sight of ensuring that the board becomes more than the sum of its parts. In other words, at the heart of an effective board lie not only skills and experience, but the culture, values, attitudes, behaviours, expectations and ways of working. Each of these – which together fashion governance and dictate the value an organisation extracts from its board members – is shaped by diversity (or the lack of it).

Diverse perspectives

A group of people who possess truly diverse characteristics, have diverse experiences and approach issues from different perspectives can make for interesting, and at times testing, board meetings. The role of the chair becomes harder, and even more pivotal, when groupthink is less likely, when board members challenge each other as well as the executive team, and when contributions are sometimes unexpected or unconventionally expressed.

If boardroom culture fails to adapt to this, governance may be ineffective and board members may disengage. The benefits of creating a boardroom dynamic where diversity is truly valued and can thrive are, however, huge. Organisations attending to their board recruitment can hope to reap these rewards. But to realise these rewards, boards must recognise that attention to diversity has to go beyond recruitment, important as that is (see box, below). This should apply to boards and their chairs.

Beyond Recruitment: How To Cultivate Board Diversity

1. Define and role-model values for the organisation that prioritise inclusivity, tolerance, respect and curiosity.

2. Create an inclusive culture spanning the boardroom environment, format of meetings and how different contribution styles are accommodated.

3. Recognise and take action when the dynamic isn’t right – leading the way by calling out bias, discrimination, prejudice and unhelpful assumptions.

4. Embrace diversity of perspective in the boardroom. This means accepting that some discussions may take longer.

5. Dedicate time to exploring preferences and ways of working, and promote difference as something to be valued.

6. Get the practical basics right in order to accommodate diverse needs: meeting timings, childcare, travel, virtual meetings, etc.

Of course, many organisations already attend to these things. Those that get it right have every prospect of attracting and retaining a diverse board, and creating a governance dynamic to which diversity of thought and perspective is central. They will be stronger for it.


To discuss this article, contact Ceri Victory-Rowe:

This article is also featured in the latest CT Brief – Diversity Focus 

Campbell Tickell is an established management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. We want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

Find out more about our governance services

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top