A new PwC report reveals that 16% think such diversity brings no benefit; male and female bosses have starkly different opinions
We’ve come a long way, but not far enough.
That’s the big takeaway from PwC’s latest Annual Corporate Directors Survey, which saw the corporate strategy firm poll just under 900 honchos about issues like the importance of diversity in the boardroom. The report found that a majority of company bigs agree that having a range of gender and racial perspectives in senior management is crucial, but also that a strikingly large minority don’t see the value of inclusion initiatives.
Indeed, 16% of the directors polled argue that gender and racial diversity brings zero benefit to a board’s ability to carry out its duties. And although it’s 2017, the number widens when extended beyond the confines of the C-suite: 40% don’t think board diversity improves a company’s broader performance at all. Meanwhile, 11% of directors say there’s zero ethnic or gender diversity on their board.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a significant gulf in opinion between male and female directors about what sort of diversity is prized. 68% of women say that gender diversity is very important, as compared to just 35% of men. That disparity also persists when evaluating age diversity—56% of females say it’s crucial vs 33% of men—and differences in racial background (42% to 22%.)
Perhaps most jarring was how little value directors placed on the importance of having people that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Just 20% of women directors say that’s key and only 11% of men agree.
There’s also a gender divide as to the pace of change. 80% of women directors say that the evolution of gender diversity in top management is happening too slowly, whereas 31% of their male counterparts think that the change is happening too fast. That said, only a quarter of companies on the S&P 500, an index of 500 major companies listed in America, have more than two women on their board.
These figures don’t come as a major surprise. Last week, Apple’s diversity and inclusion head made controversial remarks suggesting that despite the underwhelming numbers of women, African Americans and Hispanic people in Silicon Valley, she wasn’t going to focus on those groups.
“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” Denise Young Smith said at a conference in Colombia. “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of colour, or the women, or the LGBT” community. (She later apologized.) There’s also a growing refrain on the right that while diversity advocates want people in power to look different, they should all think alike.
Still, there’s academic consensus as to the value of having more women and racial minorities in the boardroom. According to a 2016 working paper from the Peterson Institute, a think tank sometimes characterized as fiscally conservative, a company that goes from having no women in senior leadership to a 30% share in powerful stakeholders can see a 15% increase in profitability. McKinsey’s 2015 diversity report also found that companies with high levels of racial diversity outperform their national medians by 35%.
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