By Melissa J. Anderson

In a recent interview with Liftstream, an executive search company in the life sciences sector, Lucy P. Marcus shared her thoughts on improving boardroom diversity. Marcus is Founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, as well as a Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School and non-executive chair of the Mobius Life Sciences Fund, chair of the board audit committee of BioCity Nottingham, and more. She has served as a director on several other boards as well.

According to Marcus, the case for diversity is urgent and obvious. She says:

“Diverse, forward-thinking, enthusiastic board members with different viewpoints and varied experience will lead you toward a successful company and a vibrant economy to match. Let companies pay lip service to it if they like but those who do not embrace the diversity agenda in word AND deed will end up being left behind and it is unlikely they or their shareholders would welcome that.”

As a seasoned board director, Marcus’ discussion on board diversity is be a valuable resource for change agents looking to improve the diversity of their own boards. Here’s her advice…

1. Don’t assume everyone has accepted the business case for diversity at the board level. Marcus says it is easy to assume that everyone wants to improve diversity. But unfortunately that isn’t the case. Many individuals are perfectly happy with the way things are, and aren’t interested in change. She said, “To my mind, though, they are wrong… Board rooms that don’t represent the stakeholders of the business and the environment in which companies are operating are not able to do their jobs as capably.”

2. Don’t confuse quotas with tokenism. Marcus said that diversity quotas and meritocracies are not mutually exclusive. Quotas serve as a reminder for boards to look beyond a homogenous group of Ivy League-educated white men for directors. Marcus said:

“If quotas are society’s way of ensuring that companies are working their hardest to seek the best possible candidates, from the broadest pool of talent, to act for them at board level, then we should not be looking at them negatively. They may actually represent one means by which we will build better businesses, create the foundations of a stronger economy and provide more secure employment.”

3. Get over “comfort.” Studies show that individuals tend to promote and prefer to work with people who look like and have the same background as themselves. It’s a matter of comfort, and it’s an easy way to build a boardroom susceptible to group-think. Marcus says this is dangerous.

“A good board of directors will take time out to examine itself, and to challenge itself to ensure that all the decisions it makes are with an eye to doing what is in the best interest of the company. This is the true meaning of good corporate governance. This includes how other board members are appointed: who should be selected to maximise the operational efficiency of the board whatever their background, gender, colour or religion.”

It might be comfortable to work in a boardroom of like-minded individuals, but it’s not in the best interests of shareholders.

4. Diversity means including the best. Marcus emphasizes that diversity is not simply about making sure each gender, ethnicity, religion, dis/ability, etc., is represented on a board. It’s about making sure the board has the best, most qualified individuals – that individuals aren’t discounted simply for having a different background than the rest. She says:

“The merits of diversity are clear. If you wish to represent competently all aspects of your business environment—from customers to investors, and from employees to the communities in which companies are located— and build a prosperous business, your board should strive to achieve the same level of diversity.”

Marcus’s advice is powerful and engaging – for the entire article, click here.