by Joanna Lohkamp
Co-founder & CEO, Better Boards Initiative
Better Boards Initiative (BBI) is a 501(c)(3) founded by Cate Goethals and Joanna Lohkamp out of a conviction that diverse corporate boards have the power to make the world a better place, creating more equitable workplaces and a fairer society. Cate and Joanna have extensive board governance, leadership development and coaching experience informed by both experience and their groundbreaking research. Their mission is twofold: to enable aspiring and new board members to become valuable contributors from day one and for boards of all types to create the culture and systems that lead to better decisions, more satisfied stakeholders, and a better world.
Prompted by the increasing number of statistical studies showing better business results by public companies with women on their boards, the first Better Boards study in 2014 set out to explore the relationship between board effectiveness and the contribution of female directors.
This study touched off multiple initiatives, including the first dedicated women board director development program in the country at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. This program has now become a successful model for leadership development and placement of women directors, resulting in the graduation of over 350 women with dozens now serving on boards.
BBI is building on that success, focusing on the best practices of diverse boards from around the country. Cate Goethals points out that "women and people of color bring the fresh perspectives and broader range of experience companies need to lead in more equitable and sustainable ways." The question is no longer "why." The question we need to ask is "how" and to share actionable ways for corporate boards to bring on diverse directors and achieve a more gender and racially diverse and inclusive culture. This is especially important as corporate boards have the power to drive more equitable workplaces and contribute to thriving communities.
One of the Fortune 500 Board Chairs we interviewed stated that "Diversity in the boardroom is the ultimate risk management strategy. You eliminate blind spots and cognitive biases." The best corporate boards are:
- Not only diverse but know how to capitalize on their diversity. These forward-looking boards draw upon a broad range of perspectives to make better business decisions.
- Able to see beyond the quick win to longer-term sustainability benefitting a wider group of stakeholders. They recognize outdated attitudes and change practices that were developed for an earlier era.
- Are role models for their organizations and communities and set the tone for a changing world.
BBI conducted large-scale qualitative research to capture best practices of the most diverse boards in the country. Over 100 corporate directors – half men, half women and 40 percent people of color, in line with the U.S. census, were interviewed. All sit on at least two diverse boards and share in personal interviews what they have learned such as how these lessons have improved their boards' decision-making and expanded the breadth of their influence. Interviews uncovered best practices on recruitment, onboarding, inclusion, board culture, board leadership, and the impact of changing board composition on governance and relationships with key stakeholder groups.
While an overview of the key findings from this innovative research will be unveiled at a virtual event October 28th, BBI expects to release a comprehensive report covering all 23 interview questions in January 2022. The report will reflect insights and practical tips and tools to better prepare aspiring directors for their first board meetings, help companies build boards that are more reflective of their stakeholders, and enable boards to capitalize on candidates with different backgrounds and perspectives.
BBI will hold a virtual conference, Better Boards: The Diversity Advantage | Unveiling the Insights of 100 Directors on October 28 to present the key themes and findings from this innovative research and to engage with thought leaders from different corporate boards. Click here for detailed event information and to register. As a proud event sponsor, Project W is offering ten complimentary tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis.