Because Board Diversity Isn't Enough

by Julie Graber | on 5 Aug 2019

The 2019 proxy season is nearing its end, and gender diversity on boards is in the news. Whether it’s their first female board member or their tenth, companies are welcoming the media attention that comes their way thanks to nonprofit organizations and activist shareholder groups who advocate to increase the number of serving on corporate boards.

While board diversity is a great start, however, many of the organizations receiving kudos for the women on their boards fail miserably at gender equality inside the organization. Here are just a few I’ve run across recently. More to follow.

Navient, a major player in the student loan industry, is emerging from a shareholder battle initiated by Canyon Partners that ultimately resulted in the addition of two board members of Canyon’s choosing. Navient was recently recognized for the fifth year in a row for having a board where 20% or more of the members were women: 6 of 11 board seats are held by women, with one woman serving as the chair of the board and with all board committees chaired by women.

Unfortunately, that commitment to gender diversity doesn’t extend beyond the boardroom; Navient’s executive officers and top compensated execs are all men.



Tractor Supply Co. is another company receiving recognition for having a board where women hold 20% or more of the seats - in this case, for the ninth year in a row. Tractor also has a female board chair, but again, the commitment to gender diversity at this national retailer doesn’t appear to extend beyond the board level.



The construction products provider has also been in the news for the number of women serving on their board (three of the ten seats are held by women).



Clearly gender diversity on the board doesn’t automatically result in greater gender diversity at the senior leadership level. And it begs the question: what do the women serving on these boards think about the lack of internal diversity? Have they asked the question or raised the issue?

If not, then they might want to consider this guidance from Mellody Hobson. Hobson, who currently serves on the boards of Starbucks and JPMorgan Chase has this to say about raising the issue of diversity in her role as a board member.


"Personally, I go there. I don’t fear the conversation. I don’t think I’m going to be typecast because I know I have a broad-based knowledge that I bring into the boardroom. I speak up on [diversity] issues as much as I speak up on any other. I don’t fear any repercussions about what people will think of me, because I am asking as a fiduciary.”

Hobson challenges us to be “color-brave” vs. color-blind in her TED talk on racial diversity. Looks like these companies could use a few good women (or men) who are willing to be gender-brave, not gender-blind in taking on the issue of gender diversity inside these organizations.

Tags:  By The Numbers