Q. Our company is a major presence in our community, but we recently settled a discrimination suit that has brought local attention to our diversity efforts -- or lack of them. We have an essentially white, male board of directors at present and realize that we need to add some fresh faces, but we know few area candidates, and major national board names likely won' t have time for us. Any ideas?

A. Pressure to add women and people of color to the boardroom is filtering down from the Fortune 500 level, but this only adds to the problem of finding qualified candidates. When board diversity first became an issue 20 years ago, boards and recruiters started tapping a fairly narrow circle of eminent women and minorities, who have since become " boarded up" (that' s why Carla Hills and Vernon Jordan seem to pop up on every other Fortune 500 board).

To make your board more diverse, you' ll need to think outside the box. " There' s a great deal of networking involved," says Charles King, who advises companies on how to make their boards more diverse. " Women and minorities now have a variety of business groups and organizations, and they' re willing to be helpful."

Your current outside board members likely know someone in their own or other companies who would be good candidates. Even those " name" women and minority directors who may be out of your reach " know some excellent candidates who aren' t," suggests King. " They' re often mentoring good people in their own organizations, and you can tap these relationships if you' re willing to take a step or two down -- every top minority director could be a source for two or three other candidates."

Indeed, in order to add talented women and minorities to your board, it' s vital to look outside the narrow circle of CEOs and top names. " You' d be surprised at the number of presidents and COOs of multibillion-dollar corporate divisions who don' t get public recognition. These people are doing an outstanding job and have full P&L responsibility, but they' re not CEOs, and don' t get tapped for boards."

Copyright © 2000 Ralph Ward's Boardroom Insider