Improving Diversity from the Top-Down - Jerusha Stewart

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Research shows that greater board diversity is associated with better business outcomes as a result of stronger decision making, faster problem solving, and increased innovation.” — The Diversity Movement

The improvement of an organization’s DEI must trickle from the top to the bottom. When there are only diverse candidates at the lowest rank of an organization, it does not encapsulate the importance of diversity and diverse thoughts to other employees. Diversity needs to start at the top, in the boardroom, to truly demonstrate the value of diverse people and perspectives, and also for the formulation of diversity policies and initiatives.

The Diversity Movement came to me for advice on improving diversity in the boardroom. I discussed board commitment and opening up the search for available board seats to a greater talent pool, and what my organization, Take Your Seat, is doing to make these ideas a reality.

“We talk about the business imperative and the moral imperative of boardroom diversity, but what’s even more important is the leadership imperative. The leadership imperative speaks to this idea of, how are you going to hold yourselves accountable as leaders? What kinds of policies and procedures are you putting in place within your organization to support systemic change when it comes to DEI? Board commitment is so important because it differentiates you from companies in the past who have just given lip service to the idea of board diversity.

“Let’s democratize the landscape and provide more transparency into the board director selection process. By creating an entry ramp for aspiring candidates and posting available board seats for those seeking to serve, we’re creating a more efficient talent marketplace. In order to create systemic change, we have to establish a flywheel in the short term that’s going to operate for the long term. We have to reach out to those who are just at the beginning of their career, and let them know that board service is an option.

“When people talk about the ‘pipeline problem,’ I always say, it’s really more of a perception issue because diverse candidates are hiding in plain sight. You just have to widen your lens in terms of where you’re looking. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same result. In this particular arena, that means if you use the same process for finding board members, you’re going to have the same people sitting on boards.

“My organization, Take Your Seat, prepares young, diverse talent for board service. We believe in the concept of shared, collaborative learning. What that means is a blend of reciprocal mentorship; we’re educating the candidates and educating the boards at the same time. On the candidate side, we need to make sure they have what they need to become board-ready. On the boardroom side, we need to make sure they’re attracting the right talent and doing a good job of onboarding. When we bring these lessons together, we’re creating experiential and transformational learning experiences. All of the experiences that we create are meant to bring different groups together so that they can start to learn each other’s values and skill sets, while building trust and forging relationships because when it comes to being in the boardroom and creating consensus, that’s a skill that they’re all going to need.”

About Jerusha Stewart: Jerusha is a mission-focused entrepreneur creating opportunities for a more equitable future. With a vast background in law, sales, public relations, and marketing, Jerusha is well-versed in innovative problem-solving and implementing successful communication strategies. Most recently, Jerusha is dedicated to leading TAKE YOUR SEAT, a social impact company focused on increasing the number of Black professionals in the boardroom and building the inclusive boards of the future.

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