Corporate Board Roundtable

The issue of diversity on corporate boards of directors is growing. As diversity initiatives work to make U.S. corporate ranks more reflective of today’s racial and cultural mix, the spotlight is placed on the corporate boardroom where diversity is still a rarity.

We discussed the issue with two champions of corporate board diversity: Sharon Allen, Chairman of the Board, Deloitte & Touche USA, LLP; and John Rogers, Jr., Chairman & CEO, Ariel Capital Management – Ariel Mutual Funds

DMBA: In your own words, what is corporate diversity?

Allen: Corporate diversity is an environment defined by the appropriate mix of people; mixed by backgrounds, experiences. And it is a kind of statistical mix. But also, it involves a culture of inclusion, which, as we define it at Deloitte, acknowledges and appreciates differences among our people.

Rogers: Corporate diversity is simply an environment where you have a diverse group of executives and board members who’ve come to the table with different life experiences.

DMBA: How does corporate board diversity help corporate culture?

Allen: I see as the benefit an enriched conversation based on experiences, on background, on views. I have seen the benefit of that broader discussion that takes place when the boardroom is more representative, more consistent with not only the mix of individuals within the company but, more importantly, the mix of individuals that are customers, consumers or clients of the organization.

Rogers: It’s symbolic. It shows at the very top the company cares about diversity. Often, the diverse board members are those that are asked to opine on issues around race and gender. If you have a board member who is willing to speak out and be forceful on these issues and remind the company of its moral and ethical responsibility to do the right things, you really can have impact, you can leave a legacy.

DMBA: A 2005 report by the Alliance for Board Diversity found a severe under-representation of women and minorities on Fortune 100 corporate boards:

• Women occupied 17% of Fortune 100 board seats, and men occupied 83%.

• Women and minorities held 29% of the seats, while white men held 71%.

• Non-whites held 15% of the seats, while white men and women held 85%.

What do these figures say about U.S. corporations and the prevailing attitudes about corporate board diversity? How can this situation be changed?

Allen: If you looked at these numbers before this, they were even worse. So you could look on the positive side and say, ‘At least it’s improving.’ But you will definitely then come to the quick conclusion that it is nor improving fast enough. I’ve seen a clear indication that there’s an objective to include at least a woman and someone from diversity in each of the boards. But my concern is that once that’s achieved the boards will stop and say, ‘Okay, we’ve checked that box.’ And to me that just doesn’t achieve the objective. It’s really not getting at the real intent of diversifying within the boardroom.

There’s a lot of talk about [changing the situation]’ but there has to be more action, a greater effort by boards to look more broadly to [get executives] on their boards, not only to gain diversity of thought and experiential diversity but also to be more representative culturally.

Within our organization, we have a corporate governance group that advises clients and others, and we do seminars and workshops that we call “Diversifying the American Board.” We invite a broad group of individuals to those workshops and we provide not only training but also, importantly, networking for the people who have some interest in joining boards [and] those who are looking for people of diversity on their boards. I think that efforts like that by others and other organizations will help better prepare people to become members of boards and also connect the good talent that’s available from diverse populations in the corporate settings that are looking to diversify their boards.

Rogers: It shows you that almost 40 years after Dr. King’s assassination, we haven’t made meaningful progress. Almost without exception, most boards will have only one person of color on them at a time and maybe only {one} or two women. So it means that we haven’t made enough progress and we have a long way to go.

David Thomas, the Harvard Business School professor, has done research that shows that the boardroom is actually more diverse than the executive suites. So we’re way behind at the boardroom level but the boardroom level is actually doing better than the executive corporate suites.

We that are in positions of influence in corporate management and on boards of directors have to not allow the status quo to stay. I think we get comfortable, we’re happy to be on the board, we’re fortunate to be on the board and you sit there. And too often we’re too reluctant to rock the boat, ask the difficult questions in the board meetings, I think that’s an issue.

Too often we’re not heads of the governance committees or lead directors. That doesn’t happen enough yet, but I think that will improve. Then again, when we get into those leadership roles we have the responsibility ro push for more diversity.

In my day job I manage stock portfolios, and we often ask the companies that we invest in about the lack of diversity in their executive ranks and on their board of directors. And almost without exception they say ‘No other money managers have asked us that question.’ So I start with saying the senior executives have ro ask the questions, senior executives of color have to ask the questions, senior board members and senior board members of color have to ask the questions, then your shareholders have to ask the questions. If the; CEO and the management team are getting the same message from their shareholders, their executives and their board members, things will happen.

DMBA: Could corporate board reform as driven by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the idea of nominations by larger investors help increase diversity on corporate boards?

Allen: I think diversity on our domestic boards will be more important. I believe that is a continuation of this notion of the need for expanding our way of thinking and considering the broader views of cultural diversity within the boardroom, so you think about extending that into the more global economy. It’s just a given.

I chair our U.S. board, I am on our governance committee, and I am also a member of our global organization’s board. [That board] is almost by definition diverse from the standpoint of what I’ll call visible diversity because we’re from all over the world. I find the bigger challenge in our global board than in our U.S.-specific board is a much lesser representation of women at that table. We don’t have as many women in the executive suite around the world, although that’s not true in every country. But it’s more of a challenge around the world than in the U.S.

The experience we have had is that diversity certainly is a precedent we need to have in place in order to better appreciate and better function within the global economy.

Rogers: It should be important because everyone’s talking about the growth coming from China and India and places like that and there are very few Asian or Indian directors. Not much progress has been made there. I think the more diversity you can bring to the boardroom, the better decision-making you’re going to have about how to grow your business in these vast, growing parts of the world.

DMBA: What can boards do to recruit more diverse members?

Allen: I always talk about the need to throw a broader net to find diverse board members. There is a continuing movement and change in boards today in the numbers of sitting CEOs who are willing, or their companies are willing, to have them sit on other company’s boards or that are taking the time to participate in more than one board. That is actually opening up more doors to recruit in other places and in other ways for board members.

But there has been a bias, typically, for sitting CEOs. Of course if it were only the sitting CEOs that were being recruited, we would continue to have the challenge of diversity because there needs to be continued focus [on] diversifying the C-suites. There are a number of people that would be very good board members that fit our definition of diverse board members, but are in other operating capacities or are in the next levels of operations, sitting CFOs or CIOs or chief human resource officers. If companies will allow [recruitment] to step into those levels they will find a lot more diverse candidates able and ready to serve.

And of course, there is the continuing effort to look outside the corporate world to find good diverse board members as well. But it really takes throwing that broader net, to not be as limited as we once were in corporate America to just the CEOs to recruit from.

Rogers: There are a few executive recruitment firms that have a real specialty in this, Charles Tribbett and Russell Reynolds is the most widely recognized one nationally. It’s his true expertise; he’s put African Americans in big company boards from coast to coast. You need that expertise, someone who’s African American, worked in the initiative a long time, and knows how to make things happen.

DMBA: Do you have any advice for minority executives with aspirations for board membership?

Allen: Start building your networks early. There are experiences you can [get] for instance, from not-for-profit boards. That way you can say, ‘We’ve been active in boardrooms, we understand the processes and good governance.’ Those are ways that can get your foot in the door. There is a lot of governance training and workshops. The National Association of Corporate Directors has good programs that allow for education around governance. Those typically provide not only good educational experiences and briefings about how to be good board members, but they often allow you to extend your networks. Often, there are recruiters and others who attend those sessions who hope to meet good prospects.

Using the networks you have created and established, and expressing to others your level of interest and participating in boards, is always a good thing. There are a lot of good opportunities for developing your skill sets, and taking the opportunity to do that would absolutely be appropriate.

Another hot button for me is mentoring. You typically think about mentoring in the context of a corporate world and one supervisor to another and so on. But I believe that mentoring is equally important in the boardroom. Individuals can help the next generation, the people coming along even in the board rooms, and those who might aspire to be in the boardrooms by taking them under their wing and assisting them to be better and good directors.

Rogers: You’ve got to be a leader in your field whatever it happens to be. And then I think you have to make yourself visible to those that might want to recruit you. Here in Chicago, there’s a great history of the corporate business community working closely with the philanthropic non-profit part of our economy. And that’s often a great place for people to show themselves and demonstrate excellence. I’ve always encouraged people to get involved in their local community, get involved in their alumnae associations. Work hard to help others, and sometimes when you’re helping others people will recognize you and give you an opportunity.

It’s critical that when you’re involved in something else, never have your own agenda in the forefront. You always want to get involved and be a great teammate, whether it’s a non-profit team or a corporate team. Your first agenda item is to do a great job to help that organization be more successful. And if you do that, you get recognized and opportunities come your way. Political involvement can be very helpful too. You can always meet great people, it’s very interesting, and it’s the right thing to be involved in our political process.

 

Diversity MBA Magazine Summer 2007
Photo Credit: frtv.org; youtube.com

The Road to Successful Project Management

Today’s business environment is expanding at warp speed. Advanced technologies and globalization are some of the driving factors in this growth trend. In order to keep pace organizations require better, faster and smarter applications designed to complement the business function. To integrate the functions requires individual and team efforts done in a timely, cost-effective and efficient manner – in others words, project management.

Project management is the discipline of defining and achieving specific objectives. The challenge of project management is the best integration and allocation of the contributions and resources necessary to meet those objectives. Therefore, the project is defined as a set of activities chosen to best use resources to meet the pre-defined objectives.

More and more these days, the technology professional needs to know more than how to write a program or design architecture. As the technology function becomes a more integral part of doing business, the skills necessary to bridge the gap and align the two functions into one seamless flowing system are not technical in nature. Now, many companies are bringing in people with the necessary soft skills while others expect their in-house technology people to jump into the breach. If this describes your situation, don’t despair. Here’s how to plan, execute, and bring that project home.

 

Project Life Cycle

Regardless of the methodology used, the project development process will have the same major stages: initiation, development, production or execution, and closing/maintenance.

The initiation phase determines the nature and scope of the project and should include a plan with these components; analysis of business needs with measurable goals, a review of current operations, a concept of the final product, equipment requirements, financial analysis and a budget, determination of stakeholders and support personnel for the project, and a contract specifying, as completely as possible, costs, tasks, deliverables, and schedule.

The planning and design phase includes building and testing. Controls should be in place to ensure that the final product will meet specifications. The execution stage is the actual implementation of the plan. In software systems, this includes conversion (transfer of data from an old system to a new system), documentation, and training.

Closing consists of the formal acceptance and ending of the project. Maintenance procedures that provide continuous support for end users, corrections of errors, and periodic software updates should be included.

 

Making the Project a Success

Here are some pointers that will help your project be successful. Some may appear to be simple common sense, but all too often, the simplest steps are overlooked, causing costly snags, difficulties and delays. It’s best to try to anticipate problems in the planning stage and eliminate them before implementation begins.

• Identify sponsors and stakeholders. The sponsors and stakeholders of your project are the ones who will judge your success and shape your project. Rarely does this group come down to only one person. Understand what they expect of your project and determine the issues they find most important. Be certain you know which of your stakeholders are most important in terms of both organizational and political terms. Make sure they are on board.

• Get support from top management. Probably one of the greatest challenges in project management is motivating people who don’t report to you. During the run of your project, you may have to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, resistance from department managers, and inadequate cooperation from people with their own set of priorities. Without senior management support, people won’t take your project seriously.

• Set clear goals and realistic deliverables. Sometimes people overstate the benefits and scope of their projects to increase, their budget and improve their profile. Setting unrealistic goals and project schedules is one of the main reasons many projects fail. It’s important to be frank and honest with sponsors and stakeholders about the reality of the project. Collaborate with your sponsors to determine realistic project benchmarks and specific project phases. Your deliverables should be clearly defined and, while some adjustment may be unavoidable, in general deliverables shouldn’t constantly change, expand, or shift.

• Make the planning process your own. In project management, the plan is king. Rushing the planning process or trying to implement a plan that isn’t yours is courting disaster. If you’re replacing another project manager, examine existing plans minutely and make any needed adjustments. Use diplomacy to institute changes if the project plan came from senior management. Remember, the responsibility for the success or failure of the project is now yours. Taking the time to create an effective plan will prevent problems during the execution phase, not to mention time and money.

• Design your methodology. Once you know what your project is, you’ll need to establish the best way to implement it. This includes technical procedures specific to your IT project, such as testing, implementation, best practices, reporting issues, troubleshooting, contingency plans, etc. Find out what others have done before you; don’t try to do it all from scratch. Checks the Web for existing project plans and/or management notes, and consult technical publications for discussions about similar projects. Honestly assess your abilities. It is impossible to do every job yourself, so be sure to pick members for your team whose skills and capabilities complement your own. As a project manager, it’s not your responsibility to do everything. It’s your responsibility to get things done.

• Make sure your resources are up to the job. In addition to the dangers of being under-funded, under-staffed, and under-supported, also beware of not having enough time – in the schedule, and in your own days. Many IT projects are assigned to managers who already have full-time responsibilities and cannot realistically or effectively add more. • Put together the best team possible. Having the right people makes all the difference. Choose people with excellent technical and interpersonal skills, who can work together with little supervision. Clearly articulate your goals, give them what they need to do the job, then get out of the way.

• Keep communication channels open. Communicate with the stakeholders and sponsors regularly on your progress. Inform the business units and departments your project will affect about your time frame and expectations. Touch base with your team regularly to keep them focused. They should be thoroughly versed in your project plan, key deliverables, project benchmarks, and timelines. Be alert for potential problems before they get out of hand. Make sure your team knows that they can come to you with bad news. Make sure your sponsors and stakeholders hear the bad news from you first, before it gets distorted and exaggerated by someone else.

• Establish clear evaluation criteria. The only way to know if a project is failing or if performance is improving is by setting clear goals and having objective measurements. Know the actual numbers and the productivity of every member of your team. Track your failures and problems in a database. Provide feedback, set expectations, measure improvements, and look for ways to build on success.

• Keep your deliverables in mind. If you miss some of your deliverables and project milestones, your sponsors and stakeholders may still consider your project a failure, even if it is nearly complete. Keep your project deliverables in front of you as you proceed, and get your sponsors and stakeholders to sign off on each one as you complete them.

• Know when to ask for help. If your project is flagging, don’t wait until it is too far-gone to ask for assistance. Be upfront with your managers, sponsors, or stakeholders if you are overwhelmed, don’t have the resources you need, or simply are not up to the challenge. There is a difference between missing goals and deadlines and allowing a project to become an expensive disaster.

A successful project management process relies on two activities – planning first, and then doing. These two sequential activities form the basis of every project life cycle, and can be adjusted to suit the control requirements of any project in every area of project management application.   The project life cycle, characterized by a series of “milestones,” determines when the project starts, the checkpoints through which it must pass, and when the project is finished. By doing some serious planning, choosing the right people and being clear in your communication, you can manage your next project successfully.

 

Black IT Professional 2006
Photo Credit:  www.pcmag.com