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Building Successful Non-Profit Boards
Being a board member is a responsibility, not a sinecure.
By Elmira Bayrasli
The possibilities of the boardroom, board director Lucy P. Marcus believes, should aspire to the ideals that legendary medieval English King Arthur created at his famous table. There, knights gathered in effort and equality to erect a vast empire that changed history.
Change is one of the incentives driving individuals to join boards. Armed with good will and intentions and a collection of applicable skills to help entrepreneurial ventures, multinational corporations and non-profits catapult to success. It is this intention that has taken New York-born and UK-based Marcus to throw her passion behind sitting on boards as well as writing about best practices for boards and advising entrepreneurs, corporations and non-profits on how to develop strong boards. Board development, Marcus notes, is surprisingly something many entrepreneurs, who are so focused on their respective innovations, treat as an after thought. The situation is similar at non-profits. As a life-long member of this field, that caught my eye.
Sex, Race and Diversity in Corporate Leadership and the Perils of Persnickety Perceptions
Corporate Diversity Posted by Harrison on Feb 11, 2010 • 1 Comment
Wanted: CEO for Fortune 500 Corporation. White Males of at Least 6-Foot Height with Slightly Menacing Facial Features Preferred.
You think that’s politically incorrect? It gets worse.
“Baby-faced African-American males with chubby cheeks, small noses and large foreheads will be considered over less cuddly black colleagues with linebacker resumes. Female candidates should be able to demonstrate leadership skills as defined by masculine stereotypes while maintaining their femininity, as defined by same.”
You’re right, this couldn’t happen. At least in print. The sad truth is, though, that it happens all the time as a reality of the American management landscape.
Nobody will admit to it, either. Yet it clearly and jarringly reflects the results of research into the reality of conscious and unconscious hiring and promoting practices of most Fortune 500 corporations in the United States. And because it is a cultural phenomenon rather than a published corporate edict, changing it falls as much into the hands of applicants as it does employers.
Research bears this out. A study by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, he of New Yorkermagazine and BLINK fame, shows us how corporate boards choose tall CEOs in vastly disproportionate numbers over more height-challenged candidates. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University finds that black business leaders have a better shot at a CEO post if they have cherubic and baby-like features – call it the Teddy-Bear effect – versus their white peers who fare better with more masculine and mature faces.
Nobody is saying it’s fair. The research says that it just is.
Women, it could be argued, face perhaps the biggest perception hurdles. Male-dominated executive boards and senior management project their own perceptions of preferred leadership styles into the hiring process. When they are looking at their corporate ranks of high-potential candidates in context to the succession pipeline, research shows they tend to favor those most similar to them, not only stylistically, but perhaps anatomonically, as well.
These days it takes more than an impeccable track record to ascend to the top floor. It seems that women and minorities must first get a Ph.D. in perception management before they can even position themselves to navigate the labyrinth that leads towards the C-level suite.
Bottom line accountability and proven talent, wonderful. Ability to hold one’s own in the old boy’s club – priceless.
Ironically, research also shows that this male-dominated paradigm may not be working. Extensive research by Catalyst, the leading organization for advancing women in business, says that corporate performance is positively impacted in those companies with the highest concentration of women on senior management teams. Such firms outperform those companies where women have low representation, as measured by return on equity and total return to shareholder.
In contrast, women CEOs are currently at the helm of only 3.5% of Fortune 500 corporations, while black CEOs occupy the chief-executive’s office as a mere 1% of the Fortune 500.
Given the snail-pace at which these numbers are shifting in the right direction, and the fact that most corporate diversity programs are doing more harm than good, at least according to Harvard diversity researcher Frank Dobbin, different approaches are obviously needed.
There is no shortage of theories out there as to why minorities get stuck on the road to organizational power. Many point to socio-economic disadvantages that limit entry to strategically important schools and social circles. Explanations also include the lack of cultural blending within so-called power groups, and the pervasiveness of deeply ingrained gender-bias and stereotyping in the dominant corporate establishment.
These theories are backed by validating research. And yet, even with verifiable bottom-line impact, companies seem slow to respond to the need for change.
And while eradicating bias and stereotyping is more often wishful thinking than the result of formal training and education, there is something stakeholders can do to contribute to a more diverse representation of leadership in America’s biggest companies. And it starts by looking in the mirror.
To change the game we need to change the rules by which it is played. Leaders in white-male dominated cultures need to check their own perceptions and biases and, in addition to screening candidates for credentials, competence and diligence, they need to consciously focus on 21st century cross-gender and ethnicity leadership skills such as social intelligence, personal branding, interpersonal influence, relationship building, conflict resolution, reputation management and media savvy. These are the personal and political skills that boards and senior management should look for in their ranks of executives if they are to successfully position their organizations in the minds of an increasingly diverse, connected and vocal society of bias-conscious consumers.
Similarly, women and minorities in business must learn strategies to better manage the perceptions of those who hire and promote them. In this age of social media, everything we do, say and write is visible. The ability to manage one’s reputation and personal brand and to engineer buy-in with all relevant constituencies will become a critical asset in navigating the corporate ladder toward the executive suite.
© 2009 Harrison Monarth
- Subham @ February 12th, 2010 said:
Well written piece. Here, I’d like to bring in the decision making process in most humans, which is an area of interest for marketers and advertisers.
Decision are made at the emotional level, and determined by the ‘Primitive Brain’, which was meant for ensuring survival. This brain still thinks ‘Bigger is Better’ – the reason why people buy big SUVs compared to safer saloons, or why ‘Sex Sells’ in advertising.
Ceterus paribus, people would choose a ‘Star’ to lead them compared to an unimpressive personality. The 6-feet, slightly menacing looking white male would also fit in nicely with the requirement for a Hollywood leading man. And not so strange that Will Smith (highest paid star?) fits in with the description of the preferred Black CEO.
My 2 cents.