An early-career epiphany
Donna Hamlin, Ph.D’s epiphany came when she was 23 years old.
She was working as an employee communications specialist for General Electric. A woman had joined the company’s board of directors for the first time. “She gave a speech [at a company event], and I was sitting there thinking, ‘this is a big deal. I’ve got to pay attention to this,’” Hamlin said. “And I started taking a look at what was going on with boards and governance.” Soon after, she earned a Certificate of Corporate Governance from the National Association of Corporate Directors.
Hamlin has certainly come a long way since then. In 2010, she founded Boardwise, a global board services firm that helps companies and organizations improve governance practices. She also serves as the company’s CEO.
Boardwise helps to educate, coach and place aspiring board members. The company offers certification programs for board leaders, directors and C-Suite executives. It also offers management and business performance consulting to executive teams. Additionally, Boardwise provides webinars, newsletters and other publications that offer insight into the company’s work.
The power of board diversity
Many organizations are trying to do more to promote board diversity, which Hamlin calls a current “hot topic” in the field. As of January 2021, 83.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats belong to White/Caucasion members. Black members hold 8.6 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, while Latinos hold 3.8 percent. Asian/Pacific Islander members hold 3.7 percent.
“There’s a lot of data now that’s showing that those organizations that create diversity on the board outperform the ones who don’t. That’s an ROI factor,” Hamlin said. “You can’t avoid the math…no matter what country is looking at it, it keeps coming up the same way. Diversity makes a difference. So it’s popular for both rational reasons, as well as ‘just’ moral reasons.”
The number of female board executives is not quite as dismal. According to data from the Society of Human Resource Management, “Forty-five percent of new Russell 3000 board seats and 46 percent of new S&P board seats in 2019.” However, there is still much work to be done. According to that same data, “Women held just 19 percent of all Russell 3000 board seats and about 25 percent of seats on S&P boards.”
Inclusion as a compentency
Hamlin believes that actively fostering an inclusive environment is the key to increasing diversity.
“[Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau says diversity is a fact. And inclusion, he says it’s a choice. Now, I would argue it’s a competency,” Hamlin said. “When you put people around the table, and they come from different approaches, or different philosophies, or different experiences, you have to create a way to honor and respect that difference of voice and take it all in. And if you don’t have the gifts or the competencies for that, you usually get a lot of frustration and intolerance.”
Hamlin wants Boardwise to be a valuable resource to help boards better practice inclusion.
“A lot of our work is to create good dynamics around the table,” she said. “When you’ve got diversity and…diversity of thought, that’s where the best ideas float to the top. If…everybody thinks alike around a table, you don’t have a board, you have a party.”
In this video, Hamlin discusses what to consider when choosing board members, the increasing number of board diversity quotas and how serving on a board makes you a better executive.