How the Pandemic Crisis Has Become an Opportunity for Corporate Diversity
Businesses will need to rethink long-term strategies to adjust to the pandemic, and several corporate leaders said these strategies must include more diversity.
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According to a prominent chief executive, the pandemic has been a unique disruptive force, but it also presents an opportunity to drive diversity.
Susan Keating, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Women Corporate Directors Foundation, was one of six panelists at the Outstanding Directors Exchange (ODX) conference panel entitled “Diversity and Inclusion as a Shared Imperative – Amplifying the Voice of Advocacy.”
During the discussion, she noted, “from my perspective, this actually represents an opportunity. In a crisis, there is an opportunity, and why not invent now a much more active discussion around strategy and direction around diversity. We are seeing more and more of that, in the US, but also around the world.”
She said the crisis has caused boards to be more proactive.
“Boards are meeting bi-weekly,” she said of corporate boards, “Board members, where in the past, they were told, nose in fingers out, fingers are in.”
This provides an opportunity, Keating said, for boards to take a proactive role in developing diversity strategies.
“The lead director and the board has to be very intentional in not only working and having a conversation with the CEO and management but absolutely, defining new strategies- figuring out how we can envision a new future that includes a diversity within the boardroom and diversity within companies that represent their communities.”
The rest of the panel agreed that the pandemic does offer an opportunity to make real advancement in corporate board and management diversity.
Janet Wong is the Lead Executive Advisor for Ascend Pinnacle and the Director of the boards of Allegiance Bancshares, Enviva, and Lumentum.
She said the George Floyd killing sparked social justice protests and sparked diversity and social discussions in boardrooms and C-suites.
“Since the racial justice and inequality issues that occurred earlier this year, I’ve certainly seen an increase in the conversations in the organizations I belong to, including NACD, WCD- we just heard from Susan, and Ascend Pinnacle, as well as all the boards I serve on,” she said.
“Having a diverse board makes good sense,” she noted.
It is no secret that board diversity is an issue.
One statistic used is a survey done by RSR Partners found that in 2017 Latinos represented on 2.4% of corporate boards on the Fortune 1000 companies.
Amanda Gerut is the Associate Editor of Agenda, and she was the session’s host.
She put the problem another way. She said of the three thousand companies on the Russell 300, 1,260 have all white.
Esther Aguilera is the President and CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA). She said that the nominating committees on corporate boards need to take a proactive role in increasing board diversity.
“As we’ve heard current times call for proactive, vigilant leadership and working toward comprehensive and measurable results, including the Nomgov committees are at the center,” she said, “I agree that this an opportunity to think of new strategies, including succession planning for the board so that you are constantly looking for talent and directors.”
She said that plenty of talented candidates are women and minorities. “Supply is not the issue,” she said.
LCDA is one such organization that can provide referrals for talented corporate board directors who are Latinos.
“We formed the Diverse Corporate Director’s Coalition (DCDC), and our memberships combined represent some of the most accomplished and respected leaders in business, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with several NomGov chairs, and they’ve said, ‘Look-my-our clientele is young, it’s diverse. We have many Latino/Hispanic employees and workers, and I wanna, as a NomGov chair, start to get out there. Part of my job would be to get to know more of the diverse organizations,’” Aguilera said.