As regular readers of the blog will appreciate, I think diversity is a critical issue for organisations, but that the diversity has to be along lines that actually matter to decision making, which often tends to exclude the politically motivated diversity campaigns for equality around gender, race and so on.
Anyway, overlooking that, a major reason for the lack of female representation at board level is a lack of mentoring. It’s a claim supported by recent research by the University of Michigan.
“Women and minorities face a disadvantage in getting mentoring from white male incumbent board members,” it said.
The study, published recently in the Academy of Management Journal found that women and racial minorities make up 28% and 22% of directors who serve on a single board, but only 8% and 5% of those serving on more than one.
They believe this is an important distinction because such individuals are regarded as being amongst the managerial elite and hold disproportionate influence at each of the companies whom they serve.
Their study of 2,000 large American companies found that many of the directors from minority groups lacked mentoring and guidance in their first steps in the boardroom, culminating in them making some mistakes that hinder their chances of progression, with subsequent interactions tainted by those early missteps.
Such was the consequences of these early faux pas that it was 57% less likely that they will be invited to join another board in the following two year period, despite often having stronger credentials than their peers.
“It is commonly thought that a particular virtue of having women and minorities as directors is that they bring an outsider’s perspective to boards,” the research said. “Ironically, it may very well contribute to the discrimination and career impediment that we have uncovered in this study.”
It does seem a shame that in 2013, a lack of mentoring can ever be cited as a reason for meritocracy not being observed. Whilst most collaboration within organisations would be of a type that would be unsuitable for these novice directors, there nevertheless exist platforms for mentoring and collaboration between directors and senior leaders at distinct companies, both online and offline.
With senior managers slowly coming round to the virtues of social business for the provision of help and support, hopefully research such as this will further underline its utility to employees, whatever their level and role in the organisation.