Reversing One Step Forward and Two Steps Back - Patricia Golden Webb

Talking Trends
4 min readJan 5, 2024
Image by Sofía Moya on Unsplash

Boards are essential pillars in shaping a company’s culture, especially when it comes to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. In our current societal landscape, leadership holds a significant responsibility to prioritize the well-being of the communities they serve. The complexities of economic, social, racial, and religious issues underscore the need for boards to genuinely represent and understand various perspectives. This is where the importance of diverse and inclusive boards comes into play.

In a recent article I wrote for Private Company Director titled “Reversing One Step Forward and Two Steps Back,” I delved deeper into the challenges and nuances surrounding board diversity. The title itself captures the precarious nature of progress and the potential setbacks companies might face. As we navigate these dynamic times, it becomes increasingly clear that diverse boards are not just a box to tick but a necessity for genuine progress and understanding. Here are some excerpts from the article:

According to the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Believe it when it’s said, even on electronic screens or official letterhead. If there ever was a time to take full stock of board progress and reset (the way to) the table, it is now. The clock is ticking.

Our country stands at a crossroad at year-end. Nevertheless, we have tools to help us step forward. We should always at least attempt to lift things up and move forward on more even keels.

Remember George Floyd? There was a huge public cry for better minority representation in nearly all aspects of life following the sobbing. Demand for diversity ruled the day, and larger companies began to follow suit. Then the day reverted back to darker nights. No one ever wants to admit that crying or yelling out can only last for a little while; it generally takes positive behavior to create positive change.

While diversity numbers have increased over the past five to eight years across all sized companies, there has been a leveling off in diversity growth with elite Fortune 500 boards during the past year, according to the Conference Board.

Unconventional change is rarely defined in a conventional industry, but doing things in a new way rarely gets full application. What can’t be argued to death is how everything tends to be more linear and planned with more immediate context to the middle. Unfortunately, there is no high, medium or low in the public mind. It’s all about winning or losing.

Here is some good news: It won’t take as much time, effort or money now since everyone active in the arena is paying more attention. The reasons are simple despite complex factors like age and stage, longevity and diversity impacting progress at times.

What is a no-go is returning to the status quo and staying there until change no longer happens.

Here are a few steps in areas that could help impact progress. I learned these lessons in former corporate environments where my position ran the full gamut.

Step One

Establish, embrace and communicate why board diversity is important. Diverse corporate boards will benefit from varied perspectives and experiences, which can lead to better decision-making and improved financial performance. Diversity also can help companies better serve their customers and communities while improving employee morale and retention. Last but not least, having a diverse board can enhance a company’s reputation and may help avoid conflicts and legal issues stemming from discrimination.

Step Two

Develop and implement a sustainable, ongoing plan that includes the following strategies:

  • Establish a formal diversity policy that sets clear and measurable goals.
  • Expand the candidate pool beyond traditional networks by actively seeking out candidates from diverse backgrounds. Consider a wide range of qualifications and experiences.
  • Provide training and support to existing board members to recognize the benefits of diversity and foster a culture of inclusion.
  • Regularly evaluate and report on progress toward diversity goals to hold the board accountable for delivering measurable results.

There is an undeniable truth: Very little ever goes completely as planned in the corporate arena. It is always the 80/20 rule, where 20% always produce, while the remaining percentage follows suit.

Most people seem to have the right intentions, but it’s been one step forward, two steps backward over time with board diversity. Let’s attempt to reverse that ratio so we can meet at the high points and move beyond any low settings.

I think we would all agree: It would be great to see real change as opposed to more of the same.

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