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Diversity In Our Boardrooms: There's More To It Than Sex

Posted on September 8, 2014 at 6:10 AM

Guest blog: Patrick Dunne

Patrick is Chair of D30, a smart materials business, a member of the General Council of The University of Warwick, Chair of Leap Confronting Conflict and the EY Foundation and founder of Boardelta: a consultancy focussed on improving board effectiveness.

"It is absolutely right that gender diversity on boards has had a lot of attention. There may be a long way to go but it is encouraging to see that progress is being made. However, in my view, the issue of social diversity on boards has had nowhere near enough focus and air time.

I would really like to get proper debate going and also to stimulate the production, or at least better communication, of some facts and research on this issue. Happily we have moved on from the traditional 'Upper, Middle, Working' class stereotypes so beautifully parodied by Monty Python. There is a greater appreciation today that social difference has many dimensions. Educational background, the wealth and origin of our parents, our regional origins, ethnicity, religious and political views to name but a few. Yet there isn’t really a common understanding about what 'Social Diversity' really means, what value it has to a board and what the current position is.

A number of the benefits of social diversity seem fairly straightforward. Better understanding of markets, greater creativity borne out of different perspectives and experiences, more rigour from a group of people who have different frames of reference, and the ability to better connect with a broader range of groups, for example. However, it would be good to have some research to prove it.

The challenges of managing diverse boards for a chair in my experience are good ones. It is much nicer to try to strike a balance from a broad range of views than to have that anxious feeling that a discussion on a serious topic was all a bit low tension and that we may be about to be the victims of 'group think'.

It would be very interesting to see a demographic analysis of FTSE250 boards ten years ago and now and to think about what several key factors might mean for the next ten years. Some of the trends may be more visible than others. As the grammar school generations retire out it is likely that the educational background of our board members may become narrower.

Has progress on gender diversity helped or are the majority of female appointments coming from a narrow social group? Is the influence of greater numbers of non UK nationals on UK boards a positive factor or not? Can proper social diversity only be achieved with a greater mix of ages on a board?

Many say that the current lack of respect of the public for politicians is rooted in their lack of social diversity and experience of other walks of life. I am confident that business can avoid this trap, despite having witnessed some conversations that suggest some have already fallen in to it. But we can only do that if we talk more about it. "

Categories: Governance, Representation, Investors