Is your board a homogenous bunch of best buddies?

I went to an interesting session this week called “Boardroom Ready” where there was a very interesting heated discussion on the fact that Norway has just made it compulsory to have females in a company board of directors. We asked the attendee from Norway what had prompted this action and she said there was such a small population that they needed to open up the boardroom to prompt more women back into the workforce. How long before those male boardrooms are changed forever?

When I think about discussions I have had with women in their twenties I have always been struck with the fact that many of them consider that there has never been an issue with equality in the workforce and yet we continue to see very few women in the boardroom – so what has really happened? One hypothesis I have is that women give up give up on office politics in large organisations (and for that matter a certain group of men) and decide to go it alone, take more control over their work lives and set up their own companies. It is only much later that they have to then consider the formal structuring of their board as their company grows.

So what is my advice to those enterprising individuals who have set up businesses that now need to ensure they have a good board? They will need to ensure that the market drivers affecting their business are looked at and they are best placed to weather the economic turbulence still happening. What I have found is that running a business involves a lot of “grunt” work and unless you have a good board you can easily forget about the market and competitive challenges that are facing your business as you are too focused on the day to day issues.

How many companies talked up how well they were doing and stuck their head in the sand as they did not have a well balanced and diverse board which forced them to look at the real economic climate and change early enough to deal with it. Diversity in a board room can breed some healthy debate and enable the company to see other points of view which might not be as apparent with a homogenous gang of best buddies which is how boards are so often selected.

Could we have had some different outcomes to the current recession and bank fall out had we had someone representing the voice of the consumer? In fact it is already more female than male and the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reports that women are the primary consumers when it comes to wireless gadgets and gizmos were outspending men in electronics purchases US$55 billion to US$41 billion back in 2007 (http://www.gizmag.com/go/6935/) and influence 90 percent of consumer electronics purchases. Your thoughts and reactions warmly invited as always.

1 comment for “Is your board a homogenous bunch of best buddies?

  1. Caroline Hayward
    29 October, 2009 at 10:21

    As an experienced headhunter for Boards of SME's and CEO of The Chairman's Network, I totally concur with this assessment that most boards are a "homogenous bunch of best buddies" which I think is potentially very dangerous for British companies going forward.

    I know of major VC's that circulate only 20 Non Executive Directors and Chairs on hundreds of portfolio investments and within those 20 there are maybe 3 women. These individuals are "recycled" as they are considered "known quantities" and a "safe bet" with, in many cases, no real expertise or industry knowledge of relevance to that particular company. This aspect alone can cause the CEO a real headache as he/she has to educate them on their space or sector too.

    In some ways this is a "closed shop" with little or no diversity at all and with a view that women run businesses will pull us out of recession, this certainly needs to be addressed quickly!

Please leave a comment - we all like them