By Johanne Bouchard EBS Business Columnist
In the past, diversity in a business was akin to tokenism, and for some, “diversity hires” are still capitulations to a quota. Today, diversity is the new normal – a way to help businesspeople grow and evolve to help organizations be more effective.
Many leadership teams and boards of directors now welcome women and minorities, and experience the invaluable contribution and perspective they can bring. The value can be realized in the breadth of knowledge and experience a diverse group can provide: planning, strategy, decision-making, marketing, and efficiency, among others.
Consider if everyone on your board of directors was roughly the same age and of similar professional backgrounds. How can you possibly coalesce, think outside the box, and truly achieve the possibilities for the good of your stakeholders? Imagine a company trying to stay relevant in the digital era without having someone in leadership who understands digital technology.
If everyone around the board table is so similar that there isn’t true discourse, you end up with proposals and agreements from one point of view.
Consider how prioritizing diversity can create a healthy, sustainable and prosperous organization with a foundation and cultural fabric that mirrors our diverse society. In order to optimally serve our communities, our organizations must be equally diverse.
My approach to diversity is holistic. During any selection process, I emphasize what the ideal candidate would offer to any open position, whether it’s an executive or board member vacancy. Who is already represented, and what voices would round out the chorus to make it harmonious? Understanding who you already have and where you could use additional strength is usually enough to introduce diversity into any group.
If you have a strong team of seasoned veterans, it’s possible that a younger voice would add value. If you have a majority of men – or women – perhaps adding gender diversity would open new horizons for growth and profit. If your organization serves an international audience but your leadership is all flying the same flag, it’s time to recruit abroad or enlist someone with international experience.
Being farsighted is a key attribute of good leadership, and recognizing that the norms for representation have evolved – and will continue to evolve – serves any leadership team. Diversity of knowledge, skills and expertise is utterly important.
President Lincoln understood the value of having political diversity in his presidential cabinet more than 150 years ago – Lincoln deliberately built his cabinet with men who were his political rivals – and we can certainly embrace that spirit of seeking a variety of perspectives today.
Selecting varied voices when creating, planning, executing, leading and manifesting possibilities – inclusive of all genders, ages and ethnicities – will enrich us all. Let us not be afraid of embracing change and tapping into our potential by fully leveraging the talent and perspectives that others offer.
Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. Visit johannebouchard.com to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”