Should boards create diversity or strive for it, regardless of a lack of skill, talent, ability or knowledge? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Shefaly Yogendra, Board Director experienced with for- & non-profit, private & listed boards, on Quora:

Whenever the word "diversity" is mentioned in presence of incumbent holders of power in any group -- and corporate boards are no exception -- the question whether diversity should be a goal "regardless of lack of skill, talent, ability or knowledge" is asked. This is a diversion from the real challenges of group-think and other risks posed to good corporate governance from groups that are altogether too homogeneous, too familiar, too "normal".

I put "normal" in quotation marks for a reason. The word "diversity" assumes and embodies in itself that there is a "normal" and everything else is, well, diverse, deviant. This is why "inclusion" is gaining currency as the goal for boards and companies alike. "Inclusion" is positive and acknowledges that different people have different experiences, skills, talents, knowledge and perspectives that they bring without necessarily giving primacy to one "normal" and homogeneous perspective.

There are several ways of tackling the question.

One is to challenge the assumption that aiming for diversity and inclusion on boards automatically is about lowering the standards. It is not. When a board seeks inclusion, the usual first step is to diversify the channels through which board directors are recruited. Traditionally these channels have been unofficial, below-the-radar, non-transparent because directors just tapped their own networks and friends. Some even went a step ahead and made the case that not paying a headhunter was a saving for shareholders! The effect of tapping the same old networks with more men than women in the workforce has meant, for instance, that more and more men were in consideration and got on boards. This led to a sense of selection and confirmation bias in the sense that if someone is on a board, he must be competent. This is not borne out by research which shows mediocre men have been able to get these positions simply by being around in larger numbers, and not because they brought merit or skills or capabilities. But when hiring channels are diversified and more types of communities are tapped, what boards find is a range of specialist skills, experiences, and access to further and different networks of contacts. Indeed the only group that is at risk from diversity and inclusion is the mediocre male, as research has also found.

The second is to address the fear of diversity and inclusion that afflicts the incumbent group holding power and control. This is understandable. We fear what we do not know. The solution could be to avoid what we do not know, or to make a bold step towards the unknown knowing that plenty of research tells us that net gains in performance and other metrics outweigh the net risk.

When boards pursue an agenda of enhancing diversity and inclusion, contrary to the fears of incumbents, they raise the standards in many different ways. The net gain in performance and governance accrues to shareholders and stakeholders, whom board directors are tasked to serve.

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