2. Opportunity: to be more purposeful around the diversity agenda
On a positive note, the shift in organisational and cultural expectations has given leaders permission to be more purposeful around the diversity agenda.
Values and purpose become more prominent in times of crisis. In addition, long-term sustainability, including intellectual capital and talent management, have become areas of increasing interest for investors on the Environment, Sustainability & Governance (ESG) agenda.
As part of a larger project for the NHS in 2020 (pre-COVID), we had the opportunity to interview several Chairs of NHS Trust boards across England that have successfully diversified their boards (achieving gender balance and averaging 20% of directors from ethnic minority groups).
The interviews focused not only on what Chairs’ motivations for diversification were, but also importantly on the how. A very big part of this was the Leader’s approach, whilst having an excellent understanding of what the levers of change are as well as the necessary actions to be taken.
Leaders clearly articulated their belief that greater board diversity was not going to happen on its own, and research would back this up! Chairs were emphatic that diversification had to be managed explicitly and proactively, with detailed data, just like any other change process. Their attitudinal approach and personal commitment to the outcomes was notable.
They knew what levers of change needed to be pulled including extending networks into their community; the use of search firms; multiple stakeholder buy-in; and changes to their communications around the diversity agenda.
They identified and then focused relentlessly on the actions for change, which in their case centred around the appointment processes for executive and non-executive directors, as well as the succession planning/talent management processes.