Board diversity - bringing diverse talent forward
It is great that conversations about diversity and inclusion are now much more prevalent, and that people are more alive to the need to improve diversity, but if we are being truly honest, can we say that those conversations are converting themselves into action in the way that they should? If you asked your board "what is this organisation's strategy on diversity", would they be able to clearly articulate that beyond "to increase it…"?
D&I are not HR issues, they are leadership issues, and it is boards (and indeed executive teams too since between them they are most influential within the organisation) that should own and drive D&I. If they are the drivers, then they themselves must be diverse and inclusive.
It's not possible to set down in one article all of the things that boards should consider around D&I, but here are a few key thoughts:
- For starters, boards need to move away from viewing D&I in a narrower sense. It's not just about race and gender. It's about diversity of thought and experience in its broadest sense. It's a fair question to ask, "is our board thinking about it in the right way?". If it is not then there may be some initial, and critical, "mind-set" work to do with your board.
- Tied to this, boards need to talk about what kind of organisation they want theirs to be – a representative one (women – tick, ethnic minority background – tick) or truly representative, i.e. taking the best people from the broadest range of background and experiences, rather than looking at this purely in terms of quotas.
- There is a great deal of talent out there, but is your organisation accessing it in the right way? Recruitment of board members has become a very professionalised process. Not entirely a bad thing, but if your only or main way of recruiting is via recruitment consultancy then you need to acknowledge that those very formal processes can be off putting and intimidating to potential talent. Consider the ways in which you recruit and mix it up. Interestingly, some housing providers are starting to recruit their own head-hunters so that recruitment can be more organisation specific.
- Link in with other housing providers, and/ or other businesses operating in and around your area, and talk about what diverse talent you might access via contacts. Word of mouth and building relationships can lead to introductions to great people who you might not otherwise have connected with coming through onto your board.
- Consider who sits on your nominations committee. If you are looking to increase diversity because your board is not as diverse as you want it to be, then having a nominations committee made up solely of board members is less likely to address that issue. Consider introducing more diverse non-board members to your nominations committee.
- Consider specific programmes for nurturing, training and bringing new talent forward. A number of providers are already running their own training/ incubator/ greenhouse programmes, some in conjunction with others. If a significant number of providers across the sector did this, imagine how much talent could collectively be brought forward for future years.
Mushtaq Khan – Chief Executive of Housing Diversity Network – has kindly contributed some of his own thoughts to this article.
‘Can you help us in recruiting a more diverse board?’
It’s one of the questions that I get asked most often, and I’m sorely tempted to reply that ‘we can’t ‘magic’ you a diverse board overnight, it’s going to take time, energy and some patience.’
I believe that getting to a point where your board reflects the communities that it serves is a process that needs thinking through. A board recruitment process is complex – you have to consider the competencies of the outgoing board member that you’re losing, as well as the expertise, skills, backgrounds of potential replacements. If, at the same time you’re looking to amend the diversity profile of the board, enhance the board’s strategic thinking and contribute to board culture, then the equation becomes even more complex.
Making sure that you get all this right takes time, effort and some forward-thinking. Unfortunately, too many organisations leave succession planning questions unanswered until the problems of succession are upon them. Then what happens is that organisations take the easy way out and look for a new board member who most resembles the outgoing one. In that very moment, the opportunity to increase board diversity as well update skills and competencies to the rapidly changing strategic and operational goals of the organisation is lost.
This approach – reactive and a way of preserving the status quo – doesn’t do much in the way of transforming the make-up of your board. In contrast, the best housing organisations are those who think through the process and are proactive - knowing when each board member plans or is required by their own governance rules to retire. They can therefore begin identifying specific replacements years in advance of these dates.
At the Housing Diversity Network, we know that achieving a diverse and representative housing board continues to be challenging.
In response we have developed a two-year Board Diversity programme which aims to make a real and lasting impact on the development of diversity and inclusion at board level.
In essence we work with landlords to recruit and then develop a pool of potential board members from a range of backgrounds. These trainee board members are recruited on potential rather than the ‘finished product’ and our development process aims to make them board ready at the end of the programme. We also support the capacity of existing board members and senior leadership teams to benefit from greater board diversity.
We are now on the second phase of the programme and currently have board diversity cohorts running in the North East, North West and Lincolnshire.
In all of the cases, we have helped landlords recruit a pool of people who have the potential to be the board members of the future. Nothing is guaranteed – they have to apply like everyone else when a vacancy occurs - but having been through the programme, they stand a much better chance of succeeding.