Diversity and Recruiting Amid Pandemic

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Dear Board Doc: We are losing a few directors to retirement this year and will be required to hire at least one new director in the coming months. However, pandemic-related limitations have prevented us from easily identifying and vetting candidates. Can you suggest some creative ways to collect a diverse slate of candidates, and determine whether they are a good fit for our board without the benefit of meeting in person?

    This is a challenge that many boards are facing or will face in the future. The first component of your question deals with compiling a diverse slate of candidates. Board diversity is under increased scrutiny and is an area of focus for many boards.  Consultant studies have shown that when boards rely exclusively on their personal networks to identify candidates, the result is less likely to be diverse. For that reason, consultants advise directors to go to outside sources for candidate referrals. These resources can include databases such as those maintained by law firms, accounting firms, the Forum, and others, as well as professional search firms.

To look specifically for candidates who are women or people of color, there are organizations such as the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), African American Board Leadership Institute, 100 Women in Finance, and others that connect qualified candidates with boards that are recruiting to fill openings. In addition, various publications such as Savoy magazine and Black Enterprise publish lists of influential corporate directors of color, and the top minority-owned asset management firms.  These sources  may reveal corporate executives already in your network or with whom you may have secondary connections. These secondary connections with candidates may prove vitally important as a tool to respond to the second component of your question.

Evaluating a candidate who is not known to board members and determining whether the candidate would be compatible with your board presents additional challenges without the traditional methods of introduction and interviewing. Retaining a search firm, utilizing NACD’s Board Recruitment Services, and/or leaning on independent trustee counsel can help with strategizing on compatibility and collegiality. Search firms will evaluate your board’s culture and how potential candidates will fit within that culture. By now, many search firms have adapted their practices for the virtual environment and are operating within the constraints of pandemic restrictions. Similarly, your independent trustee counsel will have a good sense of your board’s personality and can evaluate a candidate’s compatibility based on that knowledge. 

The interview process is a key step in recruitment and can present the most challenges in the current virtual environment. While some boards have gotten creative and arranged for socially-distant meetings between directors and candidates, that may not be feasible for your board. A series of video interviews, initially with one or two board members, may be helpful in developing a better sense of the candidate. Additionally, you may arrange a less formal, more conversational experience (such as a virtual happy hour) to get a sense of how the candidate will fit in with the group dynamic. Overall, these are challenging times, but a flexible and creative approach should help your board achieve its recruitment goals.