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Society board of directors

Demographics—Critical Implications for Directors

Chief Knowledge Officer at the National Association of Corporate Directors

In this episode of BoardVision, Robyn Bew, director of research at the National Association of Corporate Directors, and Pam Jeffords, a partner at Mercer, discuss the implications of demographics in the boardroom, specifically for women, and how this will affect boards in the future.

Changing demographics are having a profound impact—at times a disruptive one—on companies and their boards. These changes are affecting core business matters like marketing and product development, as well as employee engagement and recruiting, says Bew.

Communications from the top need to change, says Jeffords, who is also a partner at the Virtual Exchange, a global women’s network and leadership organization.  Different generations are all in the work force at the same time, and a single message to all of them may not be effective. Jeffords’ advice to senior management and boards: “As a people leader, you have to communicate the same message in multiple ways. And you have to be good at all of them!”

Employees look to directors not only for oversight of management, but also to “help lead them,” says Jeffords.  As such, a diverse board may be able to form a higher level of trust and connection with employees.

When asked what skill sets boards look for in directors today, Jeffords cites “diversity of approach and style,” as well as the “ability to lead.” It is also valuable to have high standards for confidence. Research shows that women in general must be “80 percent confident” of a matter before they engage in it,” Jeffords says. This trait may keep women from pursuing board seats for themselves yet it also can make them good directors.

Most boards get built through trusted networks. To build a diverse board, directors can broaden their networks, building what Jeffords calls “shadow networks” to help their search for the best candidates.

Alexandra Lajoux

Chief Knowledge Officer at the National Association of Corporate Directors