But not all new directors are as fortunate. Without a deliberately inclusive culture, even experienced individuals can take a while to find their feet. Ellen Pekeles, C. Dir, was already a seasoned executive when she joined her first board but recalls her experience.
“The first time I walked into a boardroom as a director, I did not feel completely comfortable,” she says. “It probably took me a year to contribute as fully as I was used to in my executive career – largely due to the non-inclusive style of the board chair.”
What does an inclusive board look like?
As Mark Williams, CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, puts it, the aim of inclusion is “not to kick anyone out but to make the tent bigger, to open arms wider, to bring in more people.” Every inclusive board will look and feel different. What they have in common is:
- A welcoming, adaptable culture that acknowledges all participants bring value.
- Psychological safety, meaning that all participants feel safe to speak up, challenge ideas and take risks.
- Thoughtful decision-making in which alternative perspectives and possibilities are explicitly called out and explored before a decision is reached.
- Collegiality without groupthink.
- Mutual respect and trust.
This is the first article in a series on inclusive boards in which I’ll explore how to deliberately create a culture that ensures boardrooms really do belong to everyone. In upcoming issues of the Director Lens Communiqué
, I will look at how meetings are run, director recruitment and orientation, education, and how boards oversee organizational strategy – all through a lens of inclusion.
Shona McGlashan is a Fellow of the Chartered Governance Institute. As principal at McGlashan Consulting, she advises organizations, boards, and leadership teams on corporate governance, EDI, and workplace wellness. She lives and works on the the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú 7mesh (Squamish), and Səl ̓ ı́ lwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
- Good governance isn’t what you think it is, Josh Palmer, December 2022
- Di, H., An, J., & Yao, M. (2022). Finding the key to the black box of board diversity and firm performance: A mediating effect analysis of technological innovation. Frontiers in Psychology, 13.
- Wabara, K. (2021). How Many Female Seats on a Board? Board Gender-Diversification, Power, Risk-Taking, and Financial Performance. Corporate Finance: Capital Structure & Payout Policies eJournal.
- Osler 2022 Diversity Disclosure Practices
- Statistics Canada 2021 and 2017 censuses