Top board member search firms all know that identifying and recruiting diversity is now more important than ever. This is especially true for board member executive search in the government contractor and defense industries. As recognition that corporate and organizational boards need to better represent what the nation looks like, diversity recruiting is feeling the pressure to find more candidates of color and gender who have traditionally been left off the lists.
Perhaps most importantly, a diverse board will bring with it the ideas, energy, creativity and breadth of experience that companies in the GovCon & defense sector will need to find solutions for tomorrow’s national security challenges. The traditional boardroom in the defense industry, made up primarily of retired military officers who tend to be white males, may not bring with it the technological foresight that can push the company into new directions.
Board members no longer need to be 70-year-old males and former CEOs. Nor do they need to be immersed in the defense or government sectors their entire career. Younger, more tech-oriented and commercial-focused board members can bring new perspectives on what’s happening to the industry and what’s changing in the industry.
However, a new study by the Alliance for Board Diversity and the accounting firm Deloitte has found that boards continue to be stuck in the past, predominantly male and white, in spite of efforts to move in a different direction. And while progress is being made, the report found that over half of new board appointments in 2020 were white males.
Part of the problem is the security felt by naming members who are already on other boards, and thus have been vetted and have a track record on which to be evaluated. The report by the Alliance notes that more than a third of new appointments who represent diversity—which includes both white women as well as women and men of color—also sit on other Fortune 500 boards.
As one of the Alliance’s executives recently told The New York Times, “One way to look at it is that these boards are basically fishing from the same pond instead of looking at the broader ocean.” That almost guarantees a smaller pool of candidates from which to find new board members.
On the positive side, data from the research firm Institutional Shareholder Services identified progress with the appointment of Black board members over the past year, with those appointments surging by nearly 200 percent, and half of which being new to service on publicly traded company boards.
Still, the Alliance report states that it may take decades at this current rate for boardrooms to accurately reflect the demographics of the U.S. population. As the Times reported, it would take until 2046 for women of color, who make up 20 percent of the population, to represent 20 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
Organizations who are serious about achieving this important goal for their boards face a difficult challenge in identifying and recruiting members of color and gender diversity. They need to adopt innovative and creative approaches to their board member search process, looking further down the corporate ranks for the best candidates and reaching across adjacent industries for candidates with the skill sets and experience they need.
The traditional narrow approach to executive search won’t deliver the diversity they need. Getting out of their comfort zones to find these candidates will take commitment and a willingness to move beyond their current field of vision.
Finding the right executive search partner could be the first step in achieving board member diversity goals.