Skip to content

14 Concrete Steps to Boosting Diversity on Corporate Boards

We know that diversity on corporate boards is good for business and good for the world, so what steps can we take to boost women’s representation on boards worldwide? 

We know that diversity on corporate boards is good for business and good for the world, so what steps can we take to boost women’s representation on boards worldwide? 

A roadmap was unveiled at the third annual WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) Global Institute that is being held this week in New York City. “Having a series of concrete steps that multiple stakeholders can take to improve diversity is the kind of work we’re doing that’s not about rhetoric, but about action,” says Susan Stautberg, CEO, co-founder, and global co-chair of WCD.

Roadmap for Improving Diverse Representation in the Boardroom

1.    Make board succession a top priority. The Global Board of Directors Study from WomenCorporateDirectors, Heidrick & Struggles, and Professor Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business School, found that board and CEO succession planning needs to be a top priority for corporate boards. Only 40% of respondents globally said that their boards had an effective succession planning process for directors. Directors can use renewed attention to succession to improve diverse representation in the boardroom. 

2.    Encourage nominating committees to require that director slates include diverse candidates. Look to the National Football League’s “Rooney’s Rule” in the U.S., which ensures that an African-American candidate is considered in each coach search. Ensure women candidates are in every search. Create awareness of diverse director candidate databases and additional networks.

3.    Partner with CEOs to champion the diverse candidates in their pipelines and networks. Examples of CEO sponsorship include Doug Conant at Campbell’s Soup sponsoring Denise Morrison, and Chad Holliday at DuPont sponsoring Ellen Kullman.

4.    Connect diverse director candidates with board sponsors who can influence their board placement – especially for the candidate’s “first appointment.” Identify candidates through personal connections, word-of-mouth, or a search firm. Then, identify a champion on each board, dedicated to making a diversity appointment and ensuring a cultural fit. Build success upon success.

5.    Candidly assess current directors and their contribution to governance each year. Also address term and age limits, as currently dictated by best practice.

6.    Instill a process to review multiple criteria for new board members.Look for diversity not only of gender and ethnicity, but also geography, skill sets, industry background, and other experiences.

7.    Look beyond CEOs and “well-rounded” directors for candidates with specific skills that can contribute directly to the strategic needs of the business. Such skills include digital innovation, strategic talent, supply chain management, manufacturing in China and/or India, and global branding.

8.    Identify how younger candidates can add fresh thinking to the boardroom. These candidates can be found especially in industries such as media, music, travel, and retail, which have been transformed by digital and social media. Ethnic and gender diversity are often more easily found in younger directors.

9.    Governance committee members can mentor first-term board members on director effectiveness, board culture, and priorities. Help to ease the transition and ensure the success of diverse members.

10. Assure the “cultural fit” of a candidate with the board and the company. Boards need candor, courage, and cohesion.

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

11. Commit to director education, staying current with all regulatory and governance developments.

12. Identify a wide range of board opportunities and sponsor qualified women for them. These positions can include serving on advisory boards, as well as boards of major national state, and city commissions, pension funds, and treasuries.

13. Promote diversity at the board level by speaking at leadership, governance, and industry organizations and conferences. Forge alliances with organizations and research partners to expand networks and resources. It is incumbent that nominating and governance committee members are visible at the top meetings and forums where they have the opportunity to meet potential directors and identify talent.

14. Use the Global Nominating Commission’s web resource. This is a go-to guide to research, articles, databases, organizations, director education resources, and action steps around board diversity.

About WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD):
WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD)is the only global membership organization and community of women corporate directors, comprised of more than 2,000 members serving on over 3,000 boards in 52 chapters around the world. In 2012, WCD launched the Global Nominating Commission, a high-level task force of select corporate board nominating committee chairs and members from around the world, as well as CEOs, focused on proactively building diverse boards and candidate slates. Each year, WCD conducts a Global Board Survey in conjunction with Heidrick & Struggles and researchers from the Harvard Business School. Heidrick & Struggles and KPMG are Global Founding Partners of WCD.

For more information, visit

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


Up Next