By: Sharon Florentine
Workforce diversity is important at all levels of your company, but board-level diversity should be a priority if you want to attract and retain the best talent.
Hiring a diverse workforce is proven to positively impact a company’s bottom line and improve performance. But diversity, inclusion and equal representation also are increasingly factors job seekers consider when they’re looking for employment. In other words, diversity and inclusion all the way up to the board level makes you a more attractive workplace.
“We started to see a trend emerge among our job seeker users who wanted to learn about particular hiring companies’ diversity, inclusion and representation statistics and information. More and more candidates have this as one of their criteria when they’re researching potential companies — and we see that for every 10 job seekers on our site, six to seven of them are women. What that says to us is that employers who emphasize diversity at all levels, but especially at the more public-facing C-levels and at the board level, have a greater competitive advantage for about 60 to 70 percent of job seekers,” says Anthony VanHorne, CEO of job search and culture matching site CareerLabs.
The millennial factor
Millennials, too, put a lot of stock into the diversity of their potential workplace’s executive team and governing boards, VanHorne says. This generation is much more aware of diversity at all levels, and will “vote with their feet.” They will deliberately avoid working for companies who don’t share their commitment to diversity and inclusion, he goes on to note.
One of the challenges to greater diversity and inclusion at the executive and board levels is that, in an uncertain economy, companies are hard-pressed to find good leaders and diversity and inclusion tends to take a backseat, says Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and co-managing partner for executive search and leadership consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles.
“At the board level, we’ve seen the highest levels of turnover in seven years, and with that drops the diversity numbers. Women’s representation has stayed pretty flat. Hispanics on boards of directors have gone down slightly and for people of color the numbers are also flat. In this kind of economy, companies are focused on adding operating and profit-making skills at the high levels to drive better financial performance, and diversity isn’t a number-one priority,” she says.
A priority, but not number one
That doesn’t mean it’s not a priority. There’s a genuine interest in seeing greater inclusion and change, especially among consumer-focused and IT companies with savvy customers that are from diverse backgrounds themselves. Companies like this understand that having their workforce and their boards reflect the demographics of their customer base is only good for business and for their brand, says Gwin.
The war for talent is only increasing scrutiny on this issue, and it’s one that will continue to impact the makeup of executive suites and boards for years, until parity is achieved, says CareerLabs’ VanHorne.
“Any competitive company, public or private, really wants and needs to attract elite talent. If they want to get the best and brightest, they have to think about making sure their workforce is diverse, because this is a point of comparison for job seekers. If you weren’t buying into the financial outcome argument, hopefully you’re swayed by this data. If you’re in a war for talent, you need to make every effort to get the best and the brightest,” he says.