Has Covid-19 dampened the drive for diversity in the boardroom?

There has been somewhat of a paradigm shift in recent years, with numerous industries comparing salaries under the microscope, and long-standing old boys’ networks disrupted. The #metoo movement, new gender pay gap policies, international protests and social unrest have all operated as a catalyst for a company diversity upheaval in 2020.

These are historic times, and there have been some weighty pledges made, but do organisations have the figures to back up their promises? Looking at some of the statistics, it feels like a case of all talk and no trousers.

We don’t need reminding that Covid has wreaked havoc on business growth the world over during 2020, and results from our latest survey suggest that well-meaning initiatives for change have now been swept under the rug, to be revisited in a more prosperous future.

office meeting

What do the numbers say?

According to our 2020 leadership surveys, despite 56% of businesses have hired in the last 3 months, less than half (47%) will prioritise diverse appointments in the coming months. This seems surprising when there has never been such a need to think differently.

According to PwC’s D&I Benchmarking Survey from earlier this year, although 76% of organisations polled recorded diversity and inclusion as an area of priority, 33% of respondents still listed diversity as a barrier to progression.

What are the advantages of diverse hires?

Pipeline’s Women Count 2020 Report found that London-listed companies are more profitable when women make up more than one in three executive roles. The firms with at least one-third female leaders had a profit margin more than 10 times greater than those without it. The more concerning statistic is that out of the 350 companies listed, just 14 are led by women.

The advantages of a diverse workforce are endless. With a varied team of employees comes a wider range of skills, talent and experience, resulting in a broader social voice. This is not only essential to employee retention, but also to create a culture that champions the best new talent from all walks of life.

It is simply impossible to replicate the varied skill set of an inclusive workforce through linear hiring. It may be reassuring when so many in the room produce similar ideas and support the same decisions, but such consensus could indicate that an entire scope of experience-honed perspective has been missed.

Has Covid-19 slowed the corporate drive for diversity?

The concern is that despite the obvious need for change, key sectors are still reeling from the biggest blows of Covid, and have fallen into a kind of autopilot safety mode. While operating with this ‘protect and preserve’ mindset, those at the top may be reluctant to take any perceived risks or alter existing structures.

In these circumstances, a dose of fresh thinking could be just what they need.

“They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In our view, the ongoing macro challenges now make it imperative that organisations think differently if they are to achieve their potential. Cognitive diversity, both at board level and throughout the company, is an essential component in optimising company performance.” – Orlando, CEO of ORESA

What should businesses do?

Legislative barriers aside, companies should always be seeking to hire the very best people, regardless of factors including education and gender. Both businesses and head-hunters must take responsibility for the implications of their hiring decisions.

As head-hunters, we’ll always provide the best candidates based on a well-rounded approach that balances skills, experience and culture: reviewing candidates holistically as opposed to purely measuring boardroom experience.  We ensure that we look far and wide, challenge our own risk aversion and resist sticking to the pool of ‘safe’ establishment candidates.

What can candidates do to stand out?

In industries such as fashion, entry-level jobs can be up to 80% women – but they’re just not making it to executive level.

To jump a few rungs of the ladder in their own career, many of our candidates have become trustees of charities, board members of start-ups (where the level of experience required is much lower), or sporting interest groups. There are many ways to add value to your experience and prove your ability to think outside your existing role.

Surprisingly, we’ve found in our searches that many women didn’t actually want to take on non-exec positions, as tightening corporate governance rules have made the roles more onerous and the rewards less appealing. We see a future trend towards board advisory roles; this would create an interesting opportunity for diversity in general.

We’re by no means advocates of social engineering, tokenism or fulfilling any kind of quota for the sake of it, but there is an obvious need for greater diversity in boards, and this isn’t restricted to gender.

Orlando states: “I personally believe there is a special place in hell for anyone who, given the chance, doesn’t help an individual with the potential to succeed. It’s time for us to look to the future with a clear vision: let us be the ones to enable the very best talent – regardless of background, gender or race – to make the boardroom leap.”

If you’d like to gain further insight into how ORESA can help you diversify your leadership structures, Speak to our team today to see how we can help with your executive hires: +44 (0) 203 675 1459 or email Orlando Martins at [email protected].

Share this Article

Growth and Leadership

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.