Despite research that shows the positive effects of greater board diversity—companies with it are more likely to have strong financial performance and fewer instances of bribery, corruption, shareholder battles, and fraud—some directors remain unconvinced about the value diversity brings to a company overall.
A new PwC survey of nearly 900 directors found that a majority of them—73%—recognize that diversity is beneficial. Of that segment, 94% said gender and racial diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, 82% agreed that it enhances board performance, and 59% tied it to better company performance.
Yet a small but startling share—16%—said that gender and racial diversity has no benefits at all. (Another 11% said his or her board didn’t have diversity and therefore didn’t remark on its upside.)
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What’s perhaps just as concerning is how directors split at a more fundamental level, with large swaths of respondents—33% and 24%, respectively—saying socioeconomic diversity and racial diversity are “not at all important” to fostering diversity of thought in the boardroom.
Those findings may help explain respondents’ apparent satisfaction with the current levels of diversity on corporate boards. More than half of directors—58%—said that their board has achieved racial diversity, but outside research from executive search firm Spencer Stuart shows that just 15% of board seats at the top 200 S&P 500 companies belonged to racial minorities. Women held just 21% of S&P 500 board seats last year (up from 20% the year prior).
“We’re definitely on the journey to mak[ing] change, but some of the results were quite astounding,” says Paula Loop, leader of PwC’s Governance Insights Center.
But there are some hopeful clues buried among the alarming conclusions. They suggest that as more marginalized groups—women in particular—continue to pick up board seats amid pressure from institutional investors like State Street Global Advisors and BlackRock, they could provide more pro-diversity perspectives.
This year’s study found that female board members are more likely than male directors to say that gender and racial diversity has had a positive effect on the board and on the company at large, and they are more likely to recognize certain demographic attributes as “very important” to achieving diversity. Forty-two percent of women, for instance, said racial diversity was vital, versus 20% of their male counterparts.
Male directors, meanwhile, displayed more resistance to the corporate diversity push in general. Of the 27% of directors who said there is too much attention on gender diversity, 97% of those respondents were men.
By Claire Zillman
“My biggest mistake is not recognizing the power of compounding and the ability for it to build wealth, and therefore, not investing early enough,” she says. “To me, if there is one thing that can change our society, our economy, and the world, it is getting more money in the hands of women.
Indigenous Americans make up less than 1% of board members for major, publicly traded businesses, according to DiversIQ analysis. Only five people among the 5,537 board members for the S&P 500 identify as fully or partially American Indian or Alaska Native.
These three questions can not only play a pivotal role in strengthening an organization’s DEI culture; they can also serve as team-building exercise. The process of evaluating one’s understanding of DEI principles promotes open discussions, knowledge sharing, and alignment within the team.