A few weeks ago a campaign supporter suggested that our messaging was off. He said we are alienating half of our audience by insisting on boardroom diversity. Instead, he said, board directors should be chosen by meritocracy, based on ability and skill. If we selected our leaders based on meritocracy, he was sure that women would find their place on boards and in executive suites. Problem solved.
The word diversity has been bantered around for decades in discussions about corporate leadership. We’re told that diversity is a business imperative, that it’s good for business. In 2009 the SEC required companies to disclose their approach to diversity, without ever defining it. Diversity could mean anything. It was for the company to define, and the term can take on an empty ring.
2020 Women on Boards was the first organization to put a stake in the ground and define diversity to mean a minimum of 20% women on public company boards. Other groups added their own definitions and there are now diversity initiatives that call for 25%, 30%, 40% and parity for women on boards, many of these initiatives coming from European countries where strict quotas are enforced by law.
Those who talk about meritocracy when it comes to board service are perpetuating the myth that boards are chosen based on a specific set of criteria. It is not like applying to college. Each board has a unique set of challenges that are best addressed by a diverse group that brings a vast range of skills and experiences to the table. Most board members are selected because other board members know them or know of them. There’s nothing meritocratic about it.
Speak out against all male boards. Vote your proxies and send a message to companies that gender diversity is a priority!