We recently released results from our Board Benchmarking Study, which uncovered that only 1 in 3 companies has an independent director on their board.
To continue this discussion, we hosted a webinar in collaboration with the Women Business Collaborative titled, Flipping the Script on Private Board Diversity. In this session, we convened key leaders across five professional organizations to get an inside look into how to think about independent directors on private company boards, and the role independents play in board diversity.
Our speakers and panelists included moderator Ana Dutra from WBC, Bethany Crystal from Bolster, Esther Aguilera from the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), Fabrice Houdart from Out Leadership / Quorum, Jeannie Diefenderfer from Ascend, and Dr. Darlene Motley from the African American Directors Forum (AADF). By convening this diverse group of representations, we had a compelling session bringing together many different perspectives on board diversity, composition, and recruitment.
You can watch the full recording of this session here, which includes a 15-minute overview of our board benchmarking study (slides presented here), followed by 45-minutes of Q&A with the panelists.
Here were our key takeaways from this session:
- The role of independent directors is largely untapped on boards
As we found in our survey results, nearly 60% of companies today have more than one management director or more than 2 investors on their boards. By looking for opportunities to shift the balance of board directors, CEOs can bring on additional perspectives while limiting over-exposure of any one director type.
- We need more education around the differences between public & private company board service
Many panelists on the call acknowledged that there is a big difference between public and private company board service. Particularly when it comes to startup boards, the role as an independent director can be a little bit “scrappier” and hands-on with less formality than public company boards. By surfacing greater visibility into board service and expectations, our panelists believed CEOs could make it easier to recruit and onboard more diverse board leaders.
- It’s important for leaders on all sides to broaden their networks to promote more diversity on boards
One of the best moments of our panel session was acknowledging the power of colliding networks with everyone around the table. Between the five organizations and the Bolster member network, each of the speakers served as a conduit and connector to thousands of senior leaders from different communities. We spoke a lot about how CEOs and other company and board leaders can structure more intentionality around their network-building, which includes looking to voices outside of the most common or most easily accessible professionals in your inner circle.
- CEOs have an opportunity to lead this conversation with investor & manager directors
Several participants in the session expressed in chat that it can be difficult to make meaningful changes on boards with entrenched board members or long-serving independent directors. In the conversation, we spoke about the importance of managing expectations as a CEO with new directors – and also having the hard conversation with your board before making any changes. Our CEO Matt Blumberg addresses advice around some of these conversations in a recent blog post here.
- CEOs can offer coaching and more structured onboarding to ease the transition with new independent directors
We ended the discussion with advice for CEOs on how to manage expectations and onboard new independent directors in order to make their board experiences as successful as possible. Some of the tips that came up (which are also reflected in our blog series, Startup Boards), including bringing on new recruits in pairs, assigning “board buddies” for new independents, and also letting candidates sit in on a couple of board meetings to test the waters before committing.
If you’re an executive interested in board and fractional opportunities, we encourage you to sign up for Bolster here.
If you’re a startup or scaleup CEO looking for independent board members - or other on-demand roles - or would like to participate in our Board Benchmark survey and see how your board stacks up, you can learn more and join Bolster at no cost here.
-Bethany Crystal and Dana Ostomel, June 3, 2021