Board Cultivation of Succession, Diversity and Sustainability (part 2 of 2)

Helen Pitcher OBE (IDP-C and IDN President)

The previous article on succession and diversity explored the issue of top team succession. Here we consider the broader picture on diversity of talent and succession risks.

Diversity of Talent

In the UK, a quota was imposed following the 2011 publication of the Davies Report, which set a target of 25% females on FTSE 100 Boards by 2015 – which was achieved. The subsequent Hampton-Alexander Review (both INSEAD alumni) upped the target to 33%, but, more importantly, reinforced the Davies’s aspiration to drive such targets deep into the FTSE 350, with a focus on the development of a pipeline of women leaders destined for the executive committee.

Taking on these targets, board are starting to take an oversight role and push towards the future, with the UK Treasury (Finance Ministry) setting up ‘Women in Finance’, a programme to require boards to commit to goals for women’s advancement in the financial services sector. Clearly, when the board is in the spotlight, the ‘dial’ starts to shift.

However, succession planning in the context of diversity sets a series of special challenges and questions:

  • How interventionist should the board be as it seeks to overcome often decades of stereotypes, assumptions and male-friendly systems

  • Influencing the executive pipeline: How to understand the motivations and aspirations of women and minorities, often not voiced in the language of the average corporate business – terms like ‘winning’ ‘destroying’, ‘taking over?’

  • Removing barriers: How to unblock the ‘corporate mind’ to overcome years of ingrained assumptions – like skills that are considered feminine – when success was achieved by embodying masculine skills?

  • Ending stereotypes surrounding motherhood, commitment to work, female traits e.g. that woman are emotional/cheer leaders/not tough enough.

  • Setting internal targets and tracking talent: How to do this without overwhelming the responsibility of the executive leadership?

  • Aligning remuneration: How to ensure a ‘holistic’ approach to leadership and remuneration designed to underpin diversity of thought, and gender progression. 

As gender pay parity has made a dramatic entry on the UK corporate scene, this ‘voluntary code’ has created a focus on the talent pipeline as the ‘feedstock’ for boards, and on preparing women for roles as directors, by and large avoiding ‘tokenism’.

Helen Pitcher OBE
IDP-C and IDN President
Chair, Advanced Boardroom Excellence

To read part 1, click here

To download a PDF version, click here

Read our latest articles