It’s Time for Diverse Board Candidates to Take their Seats - Jerusha Stewart

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It’s 2021 and still the majority of boardrooms are white. Corporate boards don’t reflect their communities or their consumers properly and the call for change past due.

NPR’s ‘Marketplace Morning Report’ host Sabri Ben-Achour interviewed me on one of the top issues facing corporate America today: addressing diversity in boardrooms.

or read my thoughts below.

“They’ve said that there’s a pipeline problem. I think we all know that it’s a problem of perception and that minorities have been hiding in plain sight, and that step one is getting those who are of color into the networks where they would be with the board leaders and the nominating committees that are making those decisions, to invite them into the room.

“There is a networking gap that’s leading to that lack of Black leadership at the highest levels in corporate America. It’s one of the reasons we’ve invited both candidates and the higher-ups, the board leaders, the CEOs, to join Take Your Seat, so that they can create a safe place and be in that ecosystem to create very rich and deep relationships.

“So Take Your Seat’s strategy is two parts. We are focused, step one, on board placement. And what I mean by that is getting the candidates and the board leaders to meet one another and to deepen their relationships with one another in our ecosystem on our digital platform, . We’re also focused, step two, on board health. And what I mean by that is creating an inclusive culture at the board level, because it starts at the top, where candidates and employees and executives who are different will feel a sense of belonging and a sense of being valued, and their voices heard.

“We know that once you’ve placed people into the boardroom — and often it’s one person at a time that is taking that new director seat — that you have to create an environment of inclusion. And that oftentimes, when someone steps into the room, of course, who’s different from you, people get uncomfortable. So we are providing training, experiences, connections for board leaders to be able to gain the skills and the knowledge they need to move forward to create a place where their new board directors will feel valued and that they can have their voices heard. Because when that happens, that new board member will give 100%.

“I believe that’s where it has to start. Diversity in the boardroom signals a message to the rest of the organization that the company is taking this seriously, that they are looking at their leaders to be models in terms of where to move forward. It also shows that on three levels — because it takes three levels for transformation to happen, awareness, knowledge and skills — that the board has bought into having a culture of diversity. Because in the past, HR directors, chief diversity officers, didn’t have very long terms at companies because they didn’t receive the support that was needed. So when it starts at the top, then everyone knows that this is a bottom-line initiative and that the company is truly focused on making a difference.

“There’s the business imperative, there’s the moral imperative and there’s what we refer to as the leadership imperative. Most companies, and especially because our largest partnership is with B Lab [which certifies B Corps], they already have the “people, planet, profits” built into their DNA. They know about the business imperative. They know that this is kind of the right thing to do. What they may not know is how it’s going to affect their bottom line or why it’s affecting their bottom line. And I think that may be true with a lot of companies, is how do you direct these efforts to get it to affect your bottom line? And one of the fastest ways is at the board level, because they’re advising the CEO on strategy and innovation.”

About Jerusha Stweart: Jerusha is a mission-focused entrepreneur creating opportunities for a more equitable future. With a vast background in law, sales, public relations and marketing, Jerusha is well-versed in creating innovative problem solving initiatives and implementing successful communication strategies. Most recently, Jerusha has dedicated herself to her latest creation, the Take Your Seat organization, an organization working towards bettering diversity in corporate board seats and creating a pipeline of Black talent.

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!mpact Magazine is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.