Diversity Matters: 8 Questions to Consider as You Assemble Your First Board of Advisors

On April 26, 2017, The Forum of Executive Women and Representative Kate Harper were successful in passing PA House Resolution 273, urging Pennsylvania companies and nonprofits to increase gender diversity on their boards to 30 percent by the end of 2020.

TayganPoint sat down with CEO, Joy Taylor to discuss the possible impact of this resolution and to address some of the other hurdles often associated with standing up a board of advisors in your own organization.

How important is gender diversity on both existing and newly forming boards of advisors?

According to Girl Power Marketing, 91% of women make the decision about the purchase of a new home, 66% a home computer, 92% where to go on vacation, 80% about healthcare issues, 65% to buy a new car, 89% which bank to use, and 93% food.  And, to take it a step further — 46% of NFL, baseball and major league soccer fans are women.

If your organization doesn’t have gender diversity, you are not thinking enough about your market influencers.  Every company should strive for collective diversity on their board — gender, age, race, disability, geographic roots, socioeconomic environment — whatever best represents the buyers of your product or service.

Who should you have on board?

A board of advisors should be a diverse group of people knowledgeable about your business or industry.  Further, they should represent the various lenses or uses of your business and do so with voices that offer a different perspective than your own or your other internal governing bodies.  It’s traditional to have someone with a financial bent as well as someone who has experience with the operational side of your business.  Ideally, they have worked in a company like yours, or worked for a company that you might consider a “target client”.  As such, the perfect board member also has significant connections in the marketplace where natural and easy introductions can be made.

How do you find them?

It’s not so much about finding individuals to join your board, it’s about attracting them by developing a role that doesn’t just serve your needs, but also theirs.

Individuals join boards for a variety of reasons — personal interest and motivation, a commitment to community, or a drive to share and offer their gifts and talents at a local level.  In other cases, it’s financial compensation or a desire to add this experience to their resume that drives participation.

It’s a real miss if you don’t work to build a diverse board with challenging ideas.  The members of your board should do things that make you slightly uncomfortable.  And while you don’t always have to follow their suggestions, they do need to ask the hard questions and furthermore, make you think.

Who do you need to avoid?  No ego-strokers.  Better to keep a board seat empty than to fill it with a yes-person.  And don’t hire family or friends who know nothing about your business.  For reasons that should be obvious, putting family members on your board is ultimately not going to serve you well.

What are you supposed to do with them?

It’s never a great use of a board member’s time to simply throw status reports and charts at them.  You aren’t updating them as to how your business is doing, you are engaging them in conversation about where the business could go and how to get there.  It’s their job to ask you the difficult ‘why and why-not questions’ related to your planned growth strategy, your marketplace presence and your resourcing strategy.

Boards are certainly not all one flavor and they come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.  That said, there are a few different types of boards you may strategically want to consider:

  • Growth Driven Board – This requires that you surround yourself with people smarter than yourself who can really push you to expand your footprint.
  • Innovation Boards – These are filled primarily with people who know the marketplace you operate in and can help you align your business strategy to fit that changing environment.
  • Community Engagement Board – These are filled with well-known, well-connected “society players” whose name or reputation enables you to have conversations, open doors or get invited to the right meeting or party. Believe it or not, it’s these types of boards that can truly expand a company most rapidly.

I’ve found that developing a grid of the topics important to you and your organization can be tremendously helpful as you consider potential board candidates.  This exercise can aid you in finding the right people – those with a mix of gifts, talents and experience that can help propel you forward.  Ask yourself how many of the boxes you can check off for each potential board candidate, and overall, how many of the boxes you can check overall.  An example might be the following:

Adding to the complexity of this grid, you should carefully consider the ratio of women and men as well as ethnic diversity, and age.  Further, do these candidates represent your target audience or can these members help you get where you want to go?  Finally, what types of businesses do your board members hail from? Do you have appropriate representation from small business, large public organizations, large private organizations, and non-profits?

How do you keep them engaged?

Once individuals agree to serve on your board, they will want to understand the scope of their commitment – both in terms of time and contribution.  As such, you’ll need to clearly articulate why you selected them and what role you anticipate they will play. Additionally, you’ll need to communicate the frequency and the duration of your meetings.  You will also need to determine if you will compensate them for their time and contributions.  Payment is NOT always required.

If a board member cannot offer, cannot contribute, or cannot participate – you are not giving them a reason to return and stay committed.

Why are boards of advisors important?

An outside board of advisors can hold you accountable from an external lens.  They are an audience that allows you to practice your elevator speech, test your strategies, think out loud, and consider bad ideas in a safe environment while you work toward enhancing the thinking for new, innovative solutions.  In essence, they provide a safe testing ground.  AND – – they simply push you to be a broader thinker.

What takes us so long to bring them in?

You think it’s going to be harder than it actually is.  You perceive that a board is going to question your ideas, your direction and your strategy, when indeed, that’s not what happens in reality.  The truth is, the real reason it takes so long is because, the right people are RIDCULOUSLY hard to find.

What are we afraid of?

Fear is a powerful driver and when it comes to having a board of advisors.  Many fear open criticism, or harsh judgement.  While that can certainly happen, in most cases, having a board of advisors is like having a group of therapists who simply ask perceptive questions and then help you answer them.

Others fear their organization is not mature enough to warrant a board of advisors.  They question if they’ve earned the right (they have), if their organization is big enough (it is), if they know enough people to even build a board (they probably do).

For those still hesitating to make the leap, I encourage you to do so, and do it now.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  Select your board members with care, keep them engaged, keep you mind open and perhaps even beat the deadline of 2020 showcasing YOUR highly diverse your board of directors.

 

If you’d like to talk more about your challenges and ideas related to assembling a board of advisors, or have feedback to share — I’d love to continue the conversation.

Joy Taylor  |  CEO & Co-Founder  |  TayganPoint Consulting Group  |  jtaylor@tayganpoint.com  |  LinkedIn  |  Twitter:  @JoyTaylorSays 

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