The Evolving Boardroom: Finding the Right Diverse Candidates

A continual challenge we have helped our clients address over the years is how best to populate boards with diverse directors. In fact, 86% of all of our board placements over the past two years have either been gender or ethnically diverse. Data shows that diverse boards with the right combination of relevant skills and experience outperform more homogenous ones. As such, boards often overlay their diversity objectives on top of the more traditional objectives, such as requiring that the director possess the relevant skills, experiences, perspectives, and judgment needed to be successful. Achieving all these objectives simultaneously can often prove difficult and is a short-term solution that, if not managed correctly, can have a devasting impact on board performance in the long-term. Instead, identifying and cultivating relationships with potential candidates that may not be ready to join a board in the immediate term, but have the potential to serve in several years, can increase a board’s ability to achieve these objectives, ensure culture, and remain viable for many years to come. Yet, it requires discipline and a commitment to a strategic, long-term vision.

Varying Viewpoints on Diversity

As a starting place, it is helpful for directors to ascertain what they should take into account when considering how to add diversity to their ranks. A common request from boards is to find the “best candidate,” which often means the candidate that checks all the boxes at the same time – diversity and the specific skills and experiences needed – even if there is a paucity of that candidate type in their target companies and industries. Boards can broaden their definition of diversity by considering and understanding the culture and effectiveness of the current board. In addition, diversity should also reflect the board’s customers, employees, and communities. Best practice is for boards to consider what the “best candidate” is right now and also give significant thought to what the “best candidate” is in the future – for the board and the organization. Perhaps one of the criteria that seems critical right now can be postponed until another board seat becomes available. Lastly, some directors harbor concerns that they won’t have a place under a more DEI-focused paradigm, especially those with socially advantaged identities. This can create additional hurdles, however, exploring the data that demonstrates that diversity of identity leads to diversity of thought, and in turn leads to productive discussions and better outcomes, can help expand viewpoints on the importance of diversity in the boardroom.

Board Diversity and Results

According to ISS, there has been continued improvement in racial and ethnic board diversity. Approximately 86% of Russell 3000 Index companies, excluding the S&P 500, and 99% of S&P 500 companies have at least one racially/ethnically diverse board member. Additionally, nearly all industry sectors showed increased racial/ethnic board diversity year-over-year.

A new study from KPMG specifically referencing African Americans (AA) on boards states while they are still underrepresented in the boardrooms of public Fortune 1000 companies, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of these companies with at least one AA in the boardroom. Just over three-quarters (76%) of the companies studied had at least one AA director as of September 2022, compared to only 61% in 2020. However, it is still uncommon for public F1000 companies to have multiple AA directors; less than a quarter (22%) of these companies had more than one AA serving on their board. Larger companies are likely to have more AA directors than smaller companies. For the first time, all of the largest US public companies on the F100 list have at least one AA director. In fact, nearly one in ten (9%) of these companies have three or more AA on the board.

Age diversity is another factor to consider. In 2021, BoardReady released a report showing companies whose median director age was 55 or less had 10.1% YoY revenue growth compared to companies whose median director age was 65 or more which had -7.7% YoY revenue growth. That same report showed companies with over 30% of board seats held by women outperformed their less gender-diverse counterparts in 11 out of the top 15 S&P500 sectors. In addition, companies should look at geographic diversity as well as global experience.

2023 Diversity Voting Policies

ISS and Glass Lewis will generally recommend a vote against the nominating committee chair unless the following guidelines are met:

Universal Proxy Card

With the UPC, shareholders will have a greater say on the board’s composition as they can more readily compare the board’s nominees with the activist slate and focus on existing director performance, skills, experience, and diversity gaps. See this link to an RSR article on the UPC.

Succession Planning Process

There are multiple ways to address a lack of diversity in the boardroom, but all of them require continuous attention – a board should not stop seeking diversity once they have achieved their immediate “target.” Ideally, boards should seek to surpass the minimum requirement and help set the stage for the future, both within their own organization and to be a leader in the industry. Some possible approaches to improve boardroom diversity include:

How RSR Can Help with Director Searches

Our Board and CEO Services team partners with CEOs and boards to understand issues, assess opportunities, and strategically advise to ensure sustainable growth strategies are optimized. We continue to complete diversity assignments for a wide variety of companies, from small private family companies to Fortune 500s. Again, in 2021 and 2022, 86% of our board placements were either gender and/or ethnically diverse. We are proud to play a role in this important imperative, and excited for our clients who are making progress in diversity.

Our team leverages RSR Partners’ renowned experience in corporate governance with our industry and human capital consulting expertise to locate the best candidates. RSR Partners can assist your board with:

We would love to hear your perspective on the evolution of board diversity and assist you in achieving your board’s diversity goals. 

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Greg Lau leads RSR’s Board Advisory practice, Carter Burgess leads the Board Recruiting practice, and Eric Douglas Keene is a Managing Director in the firm’s Board & CEO Services practice at RSR Partners.

RSR Partners is a boutique professional services firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in helping Boards and CEOs with their most critical recruiting, selection, and succession needs. The firm was founded in 1994 by industry icon, Russell S. Reynolds, Jr. The firm has conducted thousands of projects for Boards and CEOs at public, private equity backed, and family-owned businesses across a range of industries including asset management, consumer goods and services, industrial, technology, and healthcare. To learn more about RSR Partners, click here.