Quick question – delivering diversity

How well developed is your board’s understanding of the potential that comes from cognitive diversity?

This month The Core Partnership investigate attitudes to cognitive diversity in the board room, something that is increasingly in focus following its inclusion in the 2018 UK Corporate Governance Code.

First we asked ‘Do you have a board-level diversity champion or someone who fills this role?’ Most respondents (73%) didn’t; for the remainder, this role was most often held by an executive director (12%) with a small proportion saying their champion was either a NED, the SID, the chair or the nomination committee chair.

Levels of understanding of the potential cognitive diversity can bring were mixed. Understanding levels were described as low by 12%, moderate by 58%, high by 13% and very high by 2%, while 15% responded that this was ‘not in focus’.

We went on to ask how quickly understanding is growing. While no one responded ‘very quickly’, 10% said quickly, 40% said moderately, 33% said slowly and 17% said not at all.

Reported challenges to developing cognitive diversity were: higher priorities (69%), lack of focus (30%), scepticism (17%), lack of understanding (13%), concern about doing things differently (8%), concern about implications (4%) and 10% ticked ‘other’. *

We received a variety of responses to the question ‘In what ways do these challenges impact your board?’ Some participants said ‘this is not a problem’ and that they ‘are already relatively diverse’. Others indicated that ‘board recruitment during these times is difficult’, that ‘time commitments on these issues is currently not possible’, that it will ‘limit the breath of discussion’, that ‘lack of awareness means it is simply not considered’ or that ‘it is believed to take focus from the actual business’. Some reported that they believe their ‘board could really benefit from diversity to get a different perspective on things’ and that ‘there is a danger of “group think” if cognitive diversity is lacking’.

The most common barrier preventing boards from acting on these challenges is ‘other priorities in the business taking precedent’ with cognitive diversity being ‘seen as secondary to operational activities’. There was also reference to current challenges such as ‘market and geopolitical conditions’ and ‘financial challenges’. ‘Changes in business models resulting in smaller boards’ and a ‘lack of drive to recruit’ play a big part, but time is what a lot of organisations are lacking at the moment. A common obstacle is still ‘the reluctance to engage on this topic and accept the benefits’, as one response put it, ‘simple, relatively easy to implement solutions are required for what is often a less-than-simple issue’.

*Respondents were asked to tick all applicable answers so percentages may add up to more than 100.

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