Archive for the ‘Women on Boards’ Category

Can A Harvey Weinstein Situation Happen to Your Board?

Here is a hypothetical situation that I have encountered many times.

I am invited to observe and assess a board. When I do, I immediately see the red flags. I make hard-hitting recommendations, which have included the CEO and certain directors being fired.

Why does it take me to do what the board should have been doing much earlier?

Boards can be very defensive, and even in denial to what is blindingly obvious. “We missed it” or “it was a rogue employee” is their common defense.

Boards are now asking, “Could a Harvey Weinstein situation happen to us?”

The board’s role in overseeing corporate culture, potential harassment, and other conduct risk is increasingly being turned to by boards and regulators.

Here are twelve suggestions for boards to oversee conduct risk properly within their organizations. The best boards I work with do all of this. The worst do not.

1. Act on your hunch.

If you have a question or concern, most of the board shares the same concern. Ask the question, and ask the second question. And if you don’t like what the answer is, press further. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. I have interviewed over a thousand directors over my career. The most common regret directors have is twofold: (i) I didn’t speak up when I should have; and (ii) I didn’t fire the CEO soon enough. One corporate secretary after a recent public scandal told me, “when the board does not ask questions, we have succeeded.”

2. Insist on proper whistle-blowing.

Many whistle-blowing programs are flawed. They are not anonymous, protected, independent, rewarded or remedied. That is the board’s fault. Not surprisingly, people (especially women) do not come forward for fear of retaliation and career harm. If you think conduct risk is not occurring within your organization, you are wrong. It is just a question of degree. Bad news needs to rise, and go around management and directly to boardrooms. If bad news does not rise to the board, it does not go away. It gets worse. Good boards insist on proper channels directly to them.

3. Renew your board regularly.

New directors see things that long-serving directors may not see or may be accustomed to. A fresh set of eyes can be invaluable. Have term limits for directors or regulators will impose them for you as is being done in several countries. Have a diverse board. Homogenous boards engage in group-think and do not ask tough questions.

4. Do rigorous interviews and background checks.

Ensure that employees, agents, management and directors go through thorough and ongoing background, reference, social media, personality, criminal and financial checks and testing. People’s personality will not change. If you do not know someone’s faults, you have not done your homework, and they are a risk to your reputation.

5. Remove management regularly from boardrooms.

Remove management from a portion of each board and committee meeting. Have a safe space so directors can speak confidentially. These “in camera” sessions are the main way that directors voice their concerns not within earshot of management. In camera sessions are the greatest contributor to board effectiveness, directors tell me.

6. Act immediately at the first sign of an ethical lapse.

The standard you walk by is that standard you accept. When you see discrimination, disparagement, or unfair treatment, call it out. Speak up. And when necessary, fire the CEO or senior manager at the first sign of a lack of ethics. Otherwise, you signal to the entire organization what is acceptable to you. Boards have suffered by not acting when they should have. And if your board does not act when it should, resign.

7. Receive dis-confirming information on company culture and executives.

If you get all your information from management, you are only hearing one side. Receive your own social media analytics, look at chat rooms, hear from employees, use google alerts, commission independent reviews, hear from reporters and analysts, walk around, and listen to what you hear and observe.

This does not mean that you are micro-managing, only that you are getting full information. If management tries to block you or dominate your information flow, that is a red flag.

8. Receive employee feedback.

Retain survey providers to conduct employee morale surveys that are directly provided to the board and untampered with by senior management. Ask for qualitative exit interview results, staff turnover rates and litigation compared to your peers. Consider putting an employee on your board, or having an advisory committee or a designated director to represent the employee viewpoint.

9. Look at how employees are paid.

People behave and take risks based on how they are paid, including customer-facing employees all the way to senior management and your CEO. Look at how pay incents conduct. Make sure that employee engagement forms a healthy portion of CEO incentive pay.

10. Protect yourself and the company.

Benchmark management contracts for conduct and ethics clauses. Define just cause for dismissal to include ethics. Have fair treatment form part of all employment contracts. Ensure your Code of Ethics and Diversity Policy are conditions for incentive pay to vest, and claw it back if you discover misconduct after the fact.

11. Benchmark your diversity and inclusion policy and practices.

Many human resource policies are legalistic and do not provide adequate examples and training. Train on unconscious biases. Provide examples of heterosexism, islamophobia and transphobia. Have voluntary, confidential self-identification of gender identity and LGBTTIQQ2A. Have a diversity and inclusion best practice presentation directly to the board of directors, as tone flows down from this.

12. Be vigorous in your fiduciary duty.

Management may play the trust, confidence or micromanaging card. Press on. Insist on behavioural and integrity controls, and independent auditing of these by the internal auditor, who should report directly to you, not management. Many conduct failures have happened because senior management blocked access to the auditors from the board. Have internal audit test the controls for culture and integrity (including complaints, reaction time, investigation protocols, record keeping and non-retaliation) and report directly to you on their findings.


Governance is changing. Board are becoming far more active and are investing significant time in their duties and responsibilities.

There are occasions where the best efforts will fail, but for the most part conduct failure happens when a board is complacent and fails to act when it should.

Dr. Richard Leblanc, Editor of The Handbook of Board Governance (Wiley, 2016), can be reached at

Boards Should Not Misjudge Regulators

When a regulator advises corporate directors that progress on gender diversity is “simply not good enough,” that is code that the status quo will not continue, and that more regulation may result. And the second wave of regulation is often worse than the first.

Regulators have limited levers at their discretion. They are not going to come into boardrooms and assess performance. Thus, they are tending to land on numbers: ranging from 9-10 years for director tenure and 25% – 50% quotas for women.

Once or if this happens, directors will complain that the regulator is imposing a ‘one sized fits all’ or ‘check the box’ solution, when directors had the chance to act but chose not to. We have seen this pattern before. Paradoxically, directors may choose not to act, waiting for stronger regulation, to which they can then point and say, “now we have no choice.” Even the CEO of a major bank told regulators, “you should push us on gender targets.”

Canadian regulators have adopted a flexible and progressive ‘comply or explain’ approach to director term limits and gender diversity.

The progress recently reported is, in a word, inadequate: Only 19% of boards surveyed have term limits; only 14% disclose written diversity policies; and only 7% have targets for women on their board.

Our comply or explain regime has the disadvantage of permitting explanations that are irrelevant or spurious, such as targets for women not being adopted because candidates are selected based on merit, as if both goals are mutually exclusive. There is not an excuse for inadequate governance progress that I have not encountered.

But the real reason for the above low figures, which is not in the public domain, is self-interest. Why would any director, particularly an over-tenured male director, agree to a policy that moved him out of the boardroom? Directors speak in code publicly, but in private interviews, many open up. I had a 28-year director tear up when I recommended a 12-year term limit for his board, without grandfathering.

The academic evidence in favor of director term limits and diversity is becoming more clear: Diverse groups make better decisions. And over-tenured directors are worse for innovation and shareholder value. Regulators – in several countries – are acting. Regulators want independent directors who are the most qualified sitting in boardroom seats. As they should.

In Canada, regulators have not imposed quotas or term limits, but these should not be ruled out if inadequate progress continues. Regulators have asked boards to articulate their own numbers, and why that number works for them.

This brings us to what directors and boards should be doing to forestall further regulation. Here are my recommendations:

  • Do not misjudge the regulator, or the importance of gender diversity for the new federal and the current provincial Liberal governments. Tone-deaf boards should listen.
  • Act on conflicts of interest. If a tenure or diversity policy affects one or more of your directors, excuse these directors from the room. They should not influence the decision.
  • Do not assume director consensus. There are directors who believe that other directors have outlived their usefulness and should be replaced.
  • Land on a target. If your board has zero women, start with one woman as your target. Targets should be aspirational and dynamic.
  • If you think 9 years is too low for director tenure, choose 12 years. 15 years is on the high end, and companies are landing on 12, particularly large, complex companies. But pick a target.
  • If you do not pick a target for director tenure, then you best have a rigorous and consequential peer director assessment regime, whose output is actual director resignations. The evidence is that many boards do not have or do this.
  • Do not assume that your board can draft an inadequate tenure or diversity policy, and that this will go unnoticed. The regulator is offering guidance and examples of robust policies.
  • Own the policy. Draft the policy yourself, or have an independent advisor assist you. Management or company advisors are not independent. They work for you and have a vested interest in keeping you satisfied.
  • Watch for past practices that might bias women, including assertions that your talent pool is shallow. If your talent pool are directors whom you know, rather than the best directors available, then you best enlarge your talent pool.
  • Regulators are giving you an opportunity to craft policies that work for you. Do so. No director is irreplaceable, and directorships are not lifetime appointments. But if you believe a particular director’s tenure is advantageous, use average director tenure or have exceptions built into a policy to give you degrees of freedom.

The regulatory evidence, above, is that boards may be incapable of changing from within. As such, regulators will act when boards do not.

A rebuttal to Terence Corcoran’s “OSFI and the bureaucratization of corporate governance”

Terence Corcoran launched a scathing attack against recent regulatory announcements by the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) on assessing and interviewing directors, and strengthening gender diversity, respectively.

OSFI announced, in a draft advisory, that it intended to ask for curricula vitae of, and interview, certain directors and senior management, who include oversight functions. The Ontario Securities Commission, in a request for comment, has proposed disclosure amendments that include addressing term limits; the representation of women on boards and in executive officer appointments; and internal targets that companies could set to achieve greater gender diversity.

Mr. Corcoran calls OSFI’s announcement a “bureaucratization” of governance; contends that the OSC will “force” women directors onto boards in a “social policy agenda”; and calls an academic study “Junk Science,” while accusing the study’s authors of “manipulating” their data: a very serious charge. All these contentions warrant a counterpoint.

Currently, financial institution and public company directors are self-selected by themselves or, worse yet, management. Shareholders may not propose their choice of, or remove incumbent, directors. They press for this right, otherwise known as “proxy access,” (e.g., shareholders who own 3% of common shares for three years can propose up to 25% of a board’s directors in an uncontested election), but boards resist. Company management has challenged proxy access in court, and has won.

Therefore, there is no third party oversight or validation of director skills, qualifications and selection. This reality enables self-interest, entrenchment, recruitment on the basis of personal relationships, discrimination, and directors who do not possess requisite expertise and background.

My own research and work with boards suggests directors can and often are conflicted through gifts, donations, offices, vacations, jobs for acquaintances, prior friendships, and other perks that management gives them. I have observed and assessed bank directors who tell me they do not understand acronyms that are being discussed. One director, emblematic of many, told me, “we don’t understand derivatives.” I have witnessed directors: arrive unprepared for meetings; fall asleep at meetings; who have “not made a single contribution in years” (according to other directors); and who do not do “any of this” (proper risk management). In one instance, a female director was proposed to a largely male OSFI regulated board, and a male director remarked “she’s attractive … since she likes skiing and sailing, she’ll be a good board member.” In another, a director asked “You want us to appoint a lady to our board?” A board chair once told me “There are only twenty women in Canada who are board ready.” (The qualification to be a director is often minimal: over 18, not bankrupt, and not insane.)

I also regularly conduct reviews of significant companies where directors are lacking in relevant industry and risk expertise. This is not true of all boards.

In short, how directors are selected, and what their qualifications are, are largely shielded from scrutiny. Investors are left to rely on fuzzy short bios, and assertions that a proper recruitment process based solely on merit has occurred.

OSFI enacted significant changes to governance, requiring: boards to have directors with risk and financial industry expertise; an explicit risk appetite framework; and oversight functions (including internal audit) reporting directly to them.

I know of at least one bank, one utility, and one university (and these were the only three organizations I checked) where the Internal Audit function reports to the CEO or CFO, which is wrong.

Corporate governance involves a legacy of “independent” directors, opaque selection, and deficient reporting, assurance and internal controls. Interviews, CV checks, and greater disclosure, which shareholders should be doing, can put the heat on boards to clean much of this up. Regulators have shown internationally that they are prepared to conduct interviews and enact competency matrixes in the absence of shareholder oversight. If boards wish to forestall regulation, the answer is to improve their practices and disclosure consistent with best practice, which now includes diversification.

Indeed, Canada is late to this global board diversity movement. The majority of peer countries around the world have already enacted diversity legislation, in many cases in a much more intrusive approach than the balanced and proportionate approach the OSC is suggesting. Mr. Corcoran states the OSC is going to “force” companies to appoint more women. This in my view is not correct because companies with no or few women on their boards are free to describe why this is the case, and why this should continue.

This is not a bureaucratization of governance, but a prudent assurance of systemically important financial institutions. Interviews are wise because simple questions, such as “To whom do you report?” “How did you come to be selected?” and “What relationships do you have with directors or management?” address what CVs can hide.

Shareholders can tell when they meet with a director whether that director is “camera ready,” and OSFI will be able to as well. If a director is camera ready, and possesses all the requisite qualifications to be fit and proper, they should have nothing to worry about. Indeed, good directors should welcome the interview.

Lastly, Mr. Corcoran derides academic studies. This past summer, a primary drafter of guidelines that had a profound effect on governance and director selection in Canada remarked publicly, “We did virtually no research.” This is unfortunate because academics bring something to the table. They adopt an independent, evidence-based approach. I have numerous studies underscoring the positive effects women on boards have. There are studies suggesting CEOs do not make better directors; tenure beyond 9 years diminishes shareholder value; and busy boards with over-boarded directors result in diminished board oversight and performance. People should not be afraid of, or deride, academic studies. On the contrary, they should welcome and learn from them.

Academic studies should be more widely consulted, not less. My own LinkedIn group, Boards and Advisors, has almost 10,000 members, attesting to the benefits of academic, practitioner – and journalist – interaction.

Richard Leblanc is an Associate Professor, Law, Governance & Ethics, at York University. He also teaches corporate governance at Harvard University, and regularly advises boards and regulators. His views are his own. Disclosure: Professor Leblanc has advised, and has been retained by, OSFI and the OSC.

My submission on gender diversity to the Ontario Securities Commission

There was a consultation paper put out by the Ontario Securities Commission, Canada’s largest securities regulator. See the paper here, which calls for responses on page 20, and deadline was extended to Oct 4, 2013.

Here is my letter in Word, here.

Getting More Women on Canadian Boards, Part 1

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) should be congratulated for addressing gender diversity last week. Other than Quebec, the addressing of boardroom and senior management diversity (beyond gender) has been long overdue in Canada.

However, the central thrust of the proposal is a “policy” that listed companies may – or may not – draft; and that listed companies may – or may not – disclose. Measureable objectives within the policy may – or may not – occur. These requirements are very wishy-washy. This is an overly tempered, passive and permissive approach.

The OSC’s approach was said to be modeled off of the Australian one, but it was not in several dimensions, as I read things. The Australian approach actually defined diversity, which goes beyond women, and holds companies responsible for setting measureable objectives and reporting specific progress against their achievement. There are several content suggestions Australia provided as well. The UK’s approach to diversity is also stronger than the OSC’s, as are several countries in Europe.

A “policy” approach with insufficient guidance is unwise. The Americans adopted this approach with regard to diversity and it has been an abject failure. Clever lawyers can craft well sounding polices that are so general that it is virtually impossible not to comply with them. I remember one case where a NYSE company lawyer (a white male) actually tried to convince me that eleven all-white-male directors were, indeed, diverse because all the men had a diversity of “perspective” and “opinion.” This is what happens when regulators are passive or complacent.

This is part of a larger issue with the OSC, and that is inadequate articulation of principles and practices within its overall corporate governance framework. Other than disclosure, here, which is in turn modeled off of guidelines for publicly-listed companies, the actual guidelines are a mere four pages. They have not been updated since the financial crisis and are outdated, originally drafted in 2004 and approved in 2005.

For example, the approach to risk management within this National Policy is only two lines. (See 3.4 (b) and (c) here.) This hardly captures what has happened in the field of risk governance best practice since 2008. I advised a company last week that had a massive risk management failure and the word “risk” is not even mentioned in the vast majority of its governance terms of reference documents. This is hardly surprising given the OSC’s approach to risk itself.

The superficial approach to strategic planning and value creation is similar (See 3.4 (b) here.) A TSX board must simply “adopt” a strategic planning process [what exactly is a “strategic planning process”?], and approve a strategic plan once a year that takes into account the risks of the business. It is hardly surprising that strategy gets short shrift in many boards, my research suggests.

Without guidance, any policy, approach, or plan, or even a director “competency” can mean whatever the drafter [usually management or an advisor beholden to them] wants it to mean. This is precisely where blockage, entrenchment, and ultimately decision-making failure can and does occur.

What the OSC should instead do is move towards a comprehensive framework of governance (i) principles and (ii) practices that achieve the objectives of the principles, which other jurisdictions use. A series of succinct almost binary guidelines is simply inadequate and naive. Other jurisdictions, such as the UK, South Africa and EU have far more comprehensive principle and practice approaches, which guide companies when they comply or explain. A set of recommended practices, when it comes to diversity for example, can be pointed to by progressive directors or investors. And it is not an excuse that comprehensive principles and practices cannot be crafted because of the variety of Canadian companies. South Africa has just as great a variety of companies, and its King III Code, which is one of the most comprehensive in the world, applies to all types of companies, including: listed, private, not profit and state owned. Principles and practices is a drafting exercise and require work.

Without principles and practices, other initiatives such as diversity are bootstrapped onto inadequate guidelines.

Take individual competencies and skills of directors for example, which relate to diversity. TSX companies should recruit directors on the basis of “competencies” and “skills” (see sections 3.12 – 3.14 here), but nowhere are “competencies” or “skills” defined, nor are examples of competencies or specific expertise suggested. Other Canadian regulators (including ones I have advised) are more specific in articulating what expertise directors are expected to possess, offering comprehensive frameworks and practices, including for risk management.

Otherwise, a company is free to draft fluffy guidelines, policies, charters, and so on, that are largely public relations exercises or designed to keep the power with management, rather than designed to advance the spirit of what the regulator intended. They ultimately have limited force or effect. They are designed to protect and forestall. Many of the companies I research who have failed have similar fluffy policies. Retained management lawyers perpetuate this with cut and paste precedent exercises spread amongst their clients.

Without sufficient guidance provided by a regulator, short bios occur; or it is simply stated that a director possesses a given competency, without articulating how and when the competency was acquired. What happens here is that women are short-shrifted as they are alleged not to have the experience or the qualifications when they may or do. Second, guidance can be offered on how directors should come to be selected for membership, including interviews, short-lists, advertisements and so on, as other jurisdictions are doing.

In my next blog, I will outline specific defects of the above OSC’s proposed policy, in accordance with best practices other jurisdictions have adopted.

Diversification of Corporate Boards – Suggestions for Action

Last week, I presented “eight traps” limiting the diversification of corporate boards. Here I present some proposed solutions.

Leadership by Shareholders

Major institutional shareholders should commit resources to develop an electronic registry of prospective directors based on skills, experience and attributes. The technology exists and doing so will begin the dialogue of shareholders proposing prospective directors. In Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (“CCGG”) and Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board should develop registries. See how CalSTRS and CalPERS have done it.

Investor groups should propose model diversity policies, with best practice language, for investee boards to adopt, similar to what was done for majority voting and say on pay. Women and minority groups should be explicitly mentioned in the policy.

Leadership by Companies

Companies should disclose how prospective directors are assessed for board membership. This disclosure should include the use of a competency matrix, assessment of skills and experiences, candidate origination, advertising of board vacancies, short-listing, interviews, recommendation to shareholders, and mentoring and on-boarding practices. This disclosure should be public and on the company’s website.

Companies should adopt self-objectives for diversifying their board and senior management team, and disclose to shareholders progress in this regard annually.

Leadership by Regulators

Regulators should consider imposing a tenure limit of 9 years on company boards, as is done in other countries, including the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. Regulators should provide guidance to companies on defining diversity and its benefits, including on debate and decision-making within the boardroom.

Regulators should provide guidance to companies on the transparency and disclosure of director nomination practices (see above), and give greater consideration to the role of investors can and should play in selecting and removing directors.

Leadership by Search Firms

Search firms should develop and adopt a rigorous and readily disclosed firm- or industry-wide code of principles and practice. The code should address methods firms use for validating candidate competencies; initial selection, short-listing and recommendation practices; conflicts of interest; confidentiality; remuneration policy; client loyalty; quality of service; assurance controls; and enforcement.

Leadership by Industry Associations

The National Association of Corporate Directors (“NACD”), Institute of Corporate Directors (“ICD”) Institute of Directors, and large shareholder associations (including pension plans and unions) should disclose CEO/President succession plans (referencing the skills and experience of the next CEO); the total compensation of the incumbent CEO; and the internal pay equity ratios of other officers within the organization. This disclosure is regarded as best practice for listed companies, and director and shareholder groups should follow suit. Such disclosure would provide member information and interest prospective CEOs (internal or external). The CCGG, NACD and ICD nominating committees should give consideration to appointing a next female or minority CEO with a value creation background (e.g., investor or entrepreneurial) as opposed to a compliance one (e.g., accounting or legal).

Industry associations should develop robust competency matrixes for company boards to use in selecting directors.

Some of the above suggestions may be controversial, but different models and techniques are needed if progress is to be made.

Eight Traps of Boardroom Diversity

There are myths and vested interests in the movement towards boardroom diversity now underway in several countries.

In this first of two blog posts, I consider the “traps” and embedded myths. In the second blog post to follow, in about a week’s time, I will propose solutions.

Here are the eight “traps” as I call them.


1.         The “Defining diversity downward” trap

“Diversity” itself as a word is used to shape the debate. Australia has a succinct definition: “‘Diversity’ includes gender, age, ethnicity and cultural background.” If diversity is undefined by a regulator (such as in the US), or there is inadequate guidance provided to companies, then companies can define diversity to suit their own agendas, such as diversity of “perspective” or “training” or “educational background.” This leads to the unintended consequence of a board of almost all white males claiming itself to be diverse when it is not. To drive this point home, I usually post a cartoon of white males sitting around a board table stating that they believe they are diverse because they attended different private schools.

“Moving the Needle,” which is the subtitle for the diversity debate favored by a few groups, is another example suggesting minimalist change.

“Competencies” and “attributes” (or qualifications for directors) also need to be defined and disclosed more fully, on a director-by-director basis, because these criteria for director selection have implications for the diversity movement. “CEO,” for example, is not a competency. (See the “We want a CEO” Trap below.)

2.         The “Business case” trap

“Show me the business case,” opponents to diversity argue, and proponents attempt to advance. The fact is that peer-reviewed empirical evidence is mixed in the effect that adding women to boards has upon corporate financial performance, as is the effect of boards themselves upon financial performance. Engaging in this debate is a distracting non-winning proposition. Perhaps the business case for men sitting on boards should also be established. The case for diversifying boards should be based on the effect on debate and decision-making within the boardroom, and on the full use of available talent and equity arguments (read: it is the right thing to do), not on downstream financial outputs.

3.         The “Be careful” trap

When women directors are advanced, a response received is “Be careful, as we need qualified directors” (or words carefully spoken or written to this effect). This assertion lacks any empirical support whatsoever. It was offered in Quebec when the Premiere mandated that women must receive parity on Quebec boards and the cultural make up must match that of communities in which the company operates. Proponents of this myth should bear the burden of establishing how women or minority directors are not “qualified” to sit on boards, and indeed what it means to be “qualified” to sit on a board.

When visible minorities as directors are advanced, such as African, Hispanic/Latinos and Asian Americans (whose proportion on boards are in the 1-3% range depending on the survey), the other “be careful” argument I receive is, to use the words of an Assistant Secretary of a large US company “corporate boards should not be designed to be all things to all people. It’s not necessarily in the best interest of a company to try to make the board look like the General Assembly of the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, or U.S. Supreme Court.”

My response to arguments like the above has been: “Listen, the numbers have flat-lined for women and minorities at 15-16% and 1-3% respectively for some time, so if and when boards look like the UN or we have too many women (which will likely never occur in my lifetime), then we can talk about hypothetical arguments. Until then, let’s confine ourselves to the evidence and the here-and-now. And, having multi-culturally diverse boards looking more like communities and emerging markets is especially important if a multinational company does business around the world.

4.         The “Entrenchment” trap

Stanford researchers content that only 2% of directors who step down are dismissed or not re-elected, out of a total universe of 50,000 directors. In other words, 98% of directors retire voluntarily. This needs to change so there is greater board renewal and turnover. Term limits of nine years are now instituted in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. North American regulators should consider the effect that prolonged tenure has on director independence. Director tenure should be based on performance and it should be easier for shareholders to nominate and remove directors. Any board policy restricting entrenchment should not contain “grandfathering” (exempting existing directors) and should be decided by disinterested directors (and preferably shareholders) unaffected by the policy and free from undue influence of other directors or management.

5.         The “We want a CEO” trap

The expressed preference for CEO-directors (current or former) is based on a myth unsupported by research that CEOs make better directors. (It may be that CEOs prefer like-minded and sympathetic supporters.) Giving primacy to CEOs also has the effect of excluding diverse directors.

According to a study, 80% of directors believe active CEOs are no better than non-CEO directors. CEOs tend to be stretched, bossy, poor collaborators, and do not listen. Research also supports tenuous advantage of CEO-directors. Also, only 46% of directors believe former CEOs are above average.

“We want a CEO” may be “code” for women or minorities need not apply.

6.         The “It’s whom you know” trap

According to course materials I am using in my Harvard corporate governance course this summer, unlike executive recruitment, where interviews occur of a short list of candidates occur prior to making a choice, in director recruitment, candidates are instead ranked (1, 2, 3 and so on), and NOT interviewed. But rather, the first candidate is approached for a board position. The second and third candidates are approached only if the preceding candidate said “no.” There is no clear rationale for this anomalous recruitment practice and it has the unfortunate effect of excluding unknown but highly qualified candidate directors. It forces women into hyper-network mode because no interactive validation of competencies exist or opportunities to meet the nominating committee. This unfortunate practice perpetuates the “it’s whom you know,” mentality towards board directorship, rather than one’s competency and skills. Everyone loses when directorship is based on patronage, favors or nepotism. The board is weaker as a result.

7.         The “Prior experience” trap

There is no evidence of which I am aware confirming that first-time directors are less effective than long-serving directors, or the that the latter are more effective. The focus should be on underlying competencies and attributes and track record of accomplishment. See “Traditional benchmarks keep many women off boards…” Governance is a learned sport, just like anything else. And it is not rocket-science. The fact of the matter is that search firms and nominating committees should focus their efforts on validating and assuring competencies and intrinsics necessary to be a good director, such as integrity, leadership, mindset, industry track record, value creation process, shareholder representation and culture of equity ownership, communication, commitment and specific functional skills needed by the board – and not on an arbitrary metric of prior experience that may or may not relate to the above. The sooner this occurs, the better.

8.         The “Pipeline” or “Shallow pool” trap

Women have not made it to senior enough levels and the director talent pool is too shallow, is the final myth. Show me the evidence that this is the case. Perhaps boards are not looking hard enough. In my experience, which includes resume and profile assessment of some of the most senior C-suite women in North America, many of these candidates are markedly superior to the lesser-qualified incumbent directors. Perhaps the “pipeline” is full with qualified director candidates, and it is a mindset recruiting issue more than anything. As Deepak Shukla writes, “From my experience, every time I have attempted to start a discussion thread on the Institute of Corporate Directors’ group (mainly comprised of sitting board directors) on the subject of diversity, I have been greeted with a cold shoulder and an utter lack of responses!”

Join my blog next week where I will propose solutions to address the eight traps above, and action that should be taken by shareholders, search firms, nominating committees, industry associations and regulators to propel boardroom diversity into action.

Augusta Golf Club Needs to Get Real and Admit Women Members

CNN’s Piers Morgan, Masters winner, Bubba Watson, Donald Trump and National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD) CEO, Ken Daly, all weighed in this week on Augusta National Golf Club’s policy of excluding women members. See, if you are interested, the list of Augusta’s all-male membership roster, curated by USA TODAY, here.

Ken Daly, in an NACD webinar on ethics and capitalism, called Augusta’s policy of excluding women “DS,” which, he said, stands for “damn silly, in 2012, when women comprise 51% of the population.” Augusta’s policy was a trending issue in social media, including LinkedIn and the twitterverse, with governance leaders Sandra Rupp, Jayne Juvan, Frank Feather and Ray Williams weighing in. Even a petition has started to admit IBM’s first female CEO, Virginia Rometty, who watched on the sidelines with a pink jacket instead of a member’s green one. IBM is a major Masters sponsor and Augusta “has a history of inviting the company’s top executive to join its club.”

Why is the exclusion of women members by a private golf club a corporate governance issue?

It is an issue because all over the world now, in dozens of countries, there is a movement to the diversification of corporate boards and senior management teams in order to make better decisions. Director and executive recruitment and networking is done on golf courses. Excluding women has business consequences for them. This is also about corporate leadership and values of IBM and Augusta National.

Private clubs or associations are not islands. They pay taxes, often enjoying nonprofit tax advantages on behalf of taxpayers, and have corporate sponsors, advertisers, governing bodies (such as the PGA), customers, suppliers and local communities. Still, less than 1% of America’s golf clubs exclude women. This is a signaling issue in that it is okay to discriminate. By extension, stakeholders interacting with clubs that discriminate endorse and enable the practice.

This is also a membership issue for clubs themselves. I was asked by a new female board member last month to lunch to advise her on bringing governance reforms to a very prestigious club. As I sat in the dining room, it was almost empty. I remarked that female, minority and younger members were the future of the club, given changing demographics. And the club needed to “get real” about diversity, as well as its governance, and have transparent, inclusive policies. There is little if any substantive disclosure of how Augusta is governed on its website and how decisions are made. This is always a red flag for me and tells me an organization may not be person-proofed or have up-to-date policies.

Just in the last month, Julie Dickson, head of the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the Canadian regulator for financial institutions, addressed in a speech the importance of boardroom diversity to avoid groupthink. (OSFI’s 2003 guidelines are expected to be updated by the summer.) The Conservative government announced in its budget an advisory council to promote women on boards, under the leadership of Minister Rona Ambrose. EU Justice Minister, Vivian Reding, also a woman, has indicated that she is prepared to use quotas if companies do not raise the number of women in senior management and on boards.

Golf is part of business. As Melisa Denis, Women’s Advisory Board member at KPMG, stated in the LinkedIn Group, Boards and Advisors, “I just came back from Augusta this weekend. If anyone doesn’t think this is business they are naïve. Business is done on the golf course – whether you are playing or not. To deny membership because the CEO is a female puts this country back 20 years (at least).”

Augusta National needs to “get real” about women members. Interestingly, the NACD is also offering events to discuss how corporate boards can “get real” about diversity too. Well done, NACD.

The Boardroom of the Future: Changes that will reshape corporate governance

A global “mega-cap” company recently asked me to submit a briefing on how a boardroom of the future will look. This is an abridged summary of my report.

Democratization of governance

Your shareholders will nominate and elect your directors by electronic voting directly on your website. They will base their vote on the accomplishments of each director and track record of acting in the best interests of shareholders and the company overall.

Electronic registries and meetings will be the primary basis upon which shareholders select directors to your board. Director competencies will be fully disclosed.

Diversification of boardrooms

Your board will be 40% to 50% women and have far fewer CEOs on it in the next five to seven years. Your directors will be independent experts within their relevant strategic domains, will be quick studies, and will have access to the best learning of the company. They will request an Office of the Board be established. Board tenure will not exceed 9 years.

Corporate reporting

Reporting to shareholders will be fully integrated and online. Non-financial risks and internal controls will be independently assured. All reporting will be accessible, complete, accurate and independently validated.


Your board will be paperless and directors will have access to any piece of information they need to oversee and advise management. Technology will be used to attract and communicate with international directors. Risk appetite frameworks, established by the board, will translate into clear incentives and constraints using integrated firm-wide information systems.

Executive compensation

Executive compensation will be established by shareholder-directors. Professional standards will be imposed on any consultants retained by these directors. All compensation will be fully risk-adjusted and linked to performance. Current models and methods will change significantly.

Office of the Board

An Office of the Board will be established. It will house independent staff and resources available and accountable to the board and paid by the company.

Regulation of corporate governance

The unprecedented intrusion into the governance of companies will continue until most or all of the above reforms are implemented.


The above changes are significant and will fundamentally change the way directors are selected and how boards control management.

Canada’s Absence from the Global Movement Towards Diverse Boards of Directors

On Monday August 21st, I am delivering the opening keynote address to the annual Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries conference in Quebec City. (See my PDF slide deck with embedded links here). It is beneficial that the conference is being held in Quebec City this year. In Quebec, Premier Charest mandated into law in 2007 that by December 2011, boards of directors of all Quebec enterprises need to be comprised of an equal number of men and women, and that the cultural make-up of boards reflect more the ethnic diversity of Quebec.

Quebec City academic Marie Marie-Soleil Tremblay was also a part of a working group of eight Canadians who addressed board diversity in a submission that was recently made to the European Commission, which is contemplating introducing initiatives to make boards of directors within European Union countries more diverse. (See the group’s report here and the European Union “Green Paper” on proposed corporate governance reforms here (PDF). The questions on board and gender diversity are 5 and 6.) I plan to draw on our group’s submission in my address. The diversification of Canadian boards will be my opening topic. I also plan to show this video provided to me by Catalyst in the US.

With the exception of the Province of Quebec, Canada has been noticeably absent from the global boardroom diversity movement. Major initiatives by market regulators – ranging from disclosure of diversity plans, to self-imposed objectives, to full-fledged board quotas – in the US, UK, Australia and a number of European countries are well underway. At a the 2011 Institute of Corporate Directors Fellowship Awards Gala, Spencer Lanthier, who was one of four Canadian directors honored, called boardroom diversity “the number one issue in corporate governance right now” and that boards should just “get on with it.”

It is difficult without some form of government leadership (e.g., disclosure of diversity plans in a “comply or explain” manner), similar to that of other countries, to expect corporate boards to “get on with it,” given that boards are of a limited size and bringing on a woman by necessity might require removing a man. Both women and men tell me in confidential interviews that the system is presently “stuck.” The figures in Canada for women on boards have hovered around 8-14%, depending on the survey, and have been stagnant for many years, with only small upticks. Australia recently reported, after the Australian Stock Exchange required companies to state diversity objectives and progress towards meeting them, a whopping 600% increase in women being appointed to corporate boards in just two years. Now women comprise 30% of all new director appointments. The figure used to be 7.5%.

There is no reason women should not comprise a similar percentage of all board appointments in Canada. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, which includes scathing reports (here and here (PDF)) documenting governance and regulatory breakdowns, governments want to make sure that boards can be as strong as they possibly can be. There is academic evidence that women make better monitors within boardrooms and that men even enhance their performance when women come on to boards. (See my article in English, here, and in French, here.) There is also a case to be made that group-think (which means groups agreeing too much by virtue of similar background and social pressure to conform) is counteracted with greater diversity, in all forms (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples and people with disabilities). Beyond the academic case however, the business case is that having diverse boards ensures access to a broader talent pool of Canadian directors, as Canada increasingly sees China, India and Brazil as trader partners and our companies need to compete in the global marketplace.

The case against gender diverse boards is that many or most women are not former CEOs and do not have broad-based, business experience, with direct responsibility for profit and loss, which is helpful experience for boards. Yet there is scant academic evidence that CEOs make better directors. Moreover, enterprise leadership includes not-for-profit, professional firms, and divisional leadership within companies, as well as “up-and-comers” in the executive suites, such as CFOs and COOs. Competency matrixes (required for boards under National Policy 58-201 Corporate Governance Guidelines, section 3.12) now include skills such as social media/technology, sustainability, human resources, and public policy, where women are particularly strong. Expatriates with international experience (in India and Asia) who know the players and the markets are of enormous assistance to management teams when they sit on boards.

It is also not the case that diverse directors cannot be found, or the pool is too small, which is another argument against diverse boards. My LinkedIn® Group, Board Advisors, for example, includes 460 members. My profile alone has over 800 connections that include practicing directors and prospective directors at the top of their game. I am interviewing over 100 directors for my research and half of them I expect will be female and many will be visible minorities. There is a rich network of very well qualified directors out there for board positions. Search firms and nominating committees of boards would be well advised to look harder, and more creatively. The world has changed and prospective directors cannot simply be found at private clubs like they used to. Canada has incredibly talented directors, and we need to use all the available talent we can.

The benefits for board diversity is are enormous. Boards need to get on with it, yes, but so do our government and regulatory leaders in providing that extra “nudge.” Having companies disclosure diversity plans, for the board, senior management and the company as a whole, is a needed first step.


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