Insights Blog

Accelerating the pipeline to create a diverse and inclusive board

On May 18, BoardReady, Deloitte, and 30% Club teamed up on “Accelerating the pipeline to create a diverse and inclusive board”, an in-person event broadcast live from London. Chaired by Sharon Thorne, Deloitte Global Chair, this event explored a wide range of issues including the role of the chair in recruiting board members and supporting them in their new board role, the experience of new board members, addressing the talent and diversity gap on UK boards, the value of fresh perspectives in the boardroom, and improving the pipeline and accelerating the recruitment of diverse board members.

Kicking off the event, Sharon reflected on her role as the first woman on Deloitte board—which will soon be at 38% women—recognizing the challenges of being the first member of an underrepresented group in the boardroom. Highlighting the importance for boards to lead from the front to invoke change, she said some of the most important responsibilities of the board when it comes to diversity are making sure the candidates slate is made up of a variety of background, not falling immediately back on traditional networking, and the sponsorship and mentorship of minority groups. “This effort requires continuous attention,” she said.

Speaker Dupsy Abiola, NED at Essentra and Head of Innovation at International Airlines Group, provided insight from her role at Essentra and her executive career. When asked how her board career balances with her executive career, she said, “When you seek board roles outside of your executive role, you show a commitment to being a better leader and improving your professional abilities, to be the best you can be.”

BoardReady founder Deanna Oppenheimer, who is Chair at Hargreaves Lansdown and Chair Designate at Intercontinental Hotels Group, moderated the discussion. “You can take a chance on first time board members or those without specific experience such as audit or financial because you already have a strong team to make up for those areas and bring a new director along,” she said.

When asked about ways to diversify the boardroom, John Allan CBE, President of the CBI, Chair at Tesco, and Barratt Developments, said, “Don't waste time coming up with candidates who aren’t women or diverse if that’s what you’re looking for—be precise [to recruiter and headhunters] about what you want.” John pointed out the diverse nature of society, and while board diversity is certainly good for the board, it’s also good for society. “We must practice what we preach,” John noted, recognizing that the modern stakeholder pushes business to hold themselves accountable for diversity and sustainability. “There is a new consensus on what mankind needs to do, and within that, what businesses need to do.”

Supriya Uchil, NED at MoneySupermarket Group and Bloom & Wild, spoke about how she chooses which boards she serves on. “I turned down 18 board opportunities before I chose my first board,” she remembered. It's important to Supriya to determine whether a company is mission driven or if it’s just PR. She takes ESG into account. When asked what her tips were for joining a board, she recommended knowing yourself and how you network best, never saying no to meeting someone new, and recognizing that it’s okay to be recognized. She also highlights the importance of curiosity about learning and being okay with taking what seems like a step back to do what’s best for the bigger picture. “Male allies and females mentors are important”, she said, “And if you become the first one, you have the responsibility to put your shoe in the door and keep it open to bring others along.”

Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair at Mastercard and Global Chair of the 30% Club, closed the speaking portion of the event with a some key statistics. “"In the UK, we are almost hitting 40% women on FTSE 100 boards. There are 10% women CEOs, and while it needs to be improved upon, it's better than the global average of 5%.” Ann placed importance on board chairs being held accountable to appoint diverse CEOs and recruiting thought headhunters responsibly. “The effort must be deliberate, pay attention every day.”