Sometimes the reasons for things to continue as they have since the beginning are sound and well-intentioned. With homogeneous company boards and male-dominated C-Suites, however, many of the reasons given are nothing short of childish recriminations. And the truth is we are overdue to take a hard look at the poor thinking that surrounds much of corporate America.
The common denominator
A good way to solve problems is to look at the common element when something isn't working correctly. For instance, in today's board rooms--despite considerable buzz around the idea of gender neutrality and increased diversity--there are still shockingly low numbers of diverse representation sitting at the table. So, what is the common element? The quick answer is: the other people sitting at the table.
By and large, the majority of Fortune 500 companies are led by an aging, and predominately white, group of individuals. The Baby-Boomer generation of doers who saw these companies grow from mid-sized businesses to behemoth corporations over the past 4 or 5 decades. And they aren't giving over the reigns as easily as it might seem.
In light of this, it is important to look at some of the legitimate concerns this older group of leaders might be still holding on to. After all, at the heart of it, gender inclusion and diversity isn't about adding some magic element for success, it's about doing what is right by humanity's standards. Only then will these older, less viable arguments lose their relevance.
Changing colors before it's too late
One point worth mentioning, that might not relate directly to any of the other points, is as more and more businesses adopt a more equal mindset, the longer companies hold to their rigid outlook against diversity, the more they will have to apologize for. With things like recent gender and racial issues making headlines, change is only a matter of time. Holding out, in this case, is not advisable.
The world as a whole has changed--and that trend is quickening. By keeping your company's C-Suite homogeneous, you would be doing a great disservice to the company. Not only with regards to public opinion and societal trends, but also through the lack of diverse thought and inspiration. It has been proven that diverse boards perform better than predominately white boards. It would be a great pity to be too proud to receive the gift of diverse thinking for your business.
At this point, after so many years of fighting the diversity battle, it seems true change will only come when a younger vanguard replaces the resistant group. Thankfully for the future of our society, many of the millennial professionals entering the workforce are very open to diversity. In fact, millennials as a whole are extremely sensitive to the loss of diversity across groups.
So, what are the legitimate reasons to avoid diversity?
We're not saying there are any, but to be fair to both sides of the argument, let's look at a concern that comes up when the call for sustainability is made. These arguments are the same since diversity and sustainability are so closely related. It goes something like this: "sustainability/diversity doesn't have direct, quantifiable returns for our business, so it's not something we can put energy and resources to."
This is extremely common. Both sustainability and diversity are shelved because there is seemingly no business incentive to justify the change other than social aspiration. But that's where many business owners are short-sighted. Both sustainability and diversity are beneficial for a business because of what they save the company, more than what they bring to the company.
Like LED bulbs saving electricity, having a diverse board saves a company from making mistakes in an increasingly-diversified world. And, as reusing IT assets prevents further damage to the environment, so too, diversity prevents businesses from coming under scrutiny by consumers and legislators with unyielding and arcane positions.
This, of course, is not to say your business should add diversity simply to keep Fate on your side--it's never about acting a part. In the same way that sustainability needs to be from the heart--a true lifestyle change--diversity only really works if it's a legitimate value for your company. Our hope, as a woman-owned sustainability business, is that more businesses will see these values as absolutely vital to their future success, rather than a nice-to-have when the money's there.