Corporate Governance

How To: Diversify Your Company’s Board in Four Steps

A new guide details concrete ideas for bringing new people to the tables where decisions get made.

April 14, 2023

| by Audrey Kim
An overhead shot of a boardroom with a diverse group of people sitting at the table. Credit: iStock/AndreyPopov

“Decisions made in corporate boardrooms radiate across companies and communities,” says California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, MBA ’01.| iStock/AndreyPopov

Women hold 28% of the board seats at the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies. That’s a record, but there’s still work to do.

To support that ambitious task, the California Partners Project — a nonprofit co-founded by First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom, MBA ’01 — teamed up with the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab to create the Board Diversity Playbook. “To continue to move the needle on gender equity, we must increase women’s representation at the tables where decisions are made,” Siebel Newsom said when the online guide was unveiled at Stanford Graduate School of Business in February. “Decisions made in corporate boardrooms radiate across companies and communities.”

“This playbook is a step-by-step guide, based on research and real-world examples, that makes inclusive board recruitment easier than ever before,” said Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, lead strategist for diversity, equity & inclusion at Stanford GSB and co-founder of the VMWare Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab. The playbook details a four-step process for bringing more people into the boardroom:

1. Find and fill the gaps

Construct a “board matrix” that outlines your current directors’ skills, experiences, and demographics. This can be used to identify what additional qualities the board needs. By evaluating candidates in this context, diversity will naturally be prioritized.

2. Expand your networks

Look beyond your first- degree connections to tap into a wider pool of talent. Try to identify at least two candidates from underrepresented groups. “When you’re shortlisting candidates to interview, make sure you’re not just adding one woman into the mix — that’s not going to set you up for success,” advises Jana Rich, MBA ’96, CEO of the Rich Talent Group.

3. Create an equitable interview process

Conducting fair interviews is crucial. Brief your interview panel on bias-blocking practices, such as asking all candidates the same questions and using a consistent rubric to evaluate their answers.

4. Onboard intentionally

Assigning a mentor can help a new recruit get comfortable, especially if they’re an “only” — the only person of their gender or race in the room. And don’t wait to tap their expertise. “Another key onboarding step is strategically assigning board projects to new members so that they can immediately step into value creation,” suggests Shehnaaz Suliman, the CEO of ReCode Therapeutics and a board member of 10x Genomics.

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