The Austin Business Journal published an op-ed by Odgers Berndtson Partner Lisa Hooker titled, “Austin can lead the way in diverse business leadership” (paywall). In it, she explained the benefits of a diverse workforce and how Austin has chance to do what's right, not just what is mandated by law. After all, studies have shown that diverse boards benefit companies and their shareholders.

In order to achieve the end goal of diversity, companies must be proactive. Lisa outlines the four steps companies need to take in order to have a diverse talent pipeline.

  1. Ensure growth opportunities exist for high-performing executives early in individual’s careers.
  2. Support one-on-one mentoring to help give individuals support and confidence to take on new opportunities.
  3. Encourage high-potential executives to serve on boards of other companies since being exposed to a boardroom provides an excellent opportunity.
  4. Do not focus exclusively on corporate governance experience when filling available board seats, as this can unnecessarily limit the candidate pool.

These steps will ensure a full talent pipeline with a diverse pool of qualified candidates.

For further insights with someone who is actively involved in the Austin tech scene, Lisa also spoke with Jack Lazar, an investor who sits on the boards of Austin-based companies, Silicon Labs and Resideo.

Gender Parity in the Entire Organization

“Diversity and inclusion initiatives have been a part of Silicon Labs’ DNA for a long time,” explained Jack Lazar, a Silicon Valley-based investor who sits on the boards of Silicon Labs and Resideo, two Austin-based tech companies. “Tyson Tuttle, the CEO, is an incredibly bright engineer and a truly exceptional leader who understands the importance of leading by example.”

Since taking over as CEO of Silicon Labs in 2012, Tuttle has made metrics like gender diversity part of the company’s culture at all levels ranging from Board composition to the intern-recruiting pipeline. “It’s not something the HR group is doing behind closed doors, it’s something the company talks about as part of a respectful, trust-based culture,” Lazar explained.

“Likewise, Resideo’s compensation committee is actively advocating for diversity and inclusion metrics and the company is working to ensure such equity,” Lazar noted.

Necessity of Mandating Diversity

Some places – including California and certain European countries – have laws that mandate fines in order accelerate board gender parity. Still, gender-based quotas backed by fines remain a controversial solution. Lazar worries that a persistent lack of diversity among candidates affects the viability of quotas but concedes that they force corporate leaders to wake up and pay attention. “I give credit to Governor Brown because even though he knew there would be objections to the law, he still thought it important to force the private sector to have this discussion about diversity in the boardroom. That is so important,” he told me.

Thinking Beyond Corporate Governance Experience

It has also become increasingly clear that companies must be proactive. There are many steps that companies can take to ensure growth opportunities for high-performing, diverse executives. For example, companies should not focus exclusively on corporate governance experience when filling board seats.

According to Lazar, “Many people think you have to have board experience to be good at the job, but at Silicon Labs we recognize that individuals who are not currently on other boards may be more eager to learn and have a fresh perspective.”

If this mentality becomes more prevalent on boards, greater diversity will follow.

Lisa Hooker

Lisa Hooker is a Partner in Odgers Berndtson’s Austin and Silicon Valley offices and a member of the firm’s Technology and Board Practices. With more than 20 years of executive search experience, s...

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