Moving beyond targets

17 December 2020

Tags: Diversity

As we launch a report on diversity, IBE Associate Director, Mark Chambers discusses some of the issues raised.

Today the IBE launches a report on Ethics and Diversity. We want this report to stimulate discussion and to help identify and disseminate good practice about boards embedding diversity and inclusion.

The debate on diversity is, of course, not new. Our report reflects on a decade-long effort to improve gender diversity on boards. We have asked some challenging questions about the pace of progress and what has been achieved. But most of all we want to look forward, to learn the lessons from that push on gender and to suggest how boards can respond as the focus shifts rapidly beyond gender to address ethnicity and other dimensions of diversity.

Our conclusion is stark. Whilst there is much to feel good about in the progress that has been made and increasing evidence of the quantifiable business benefits that increased gender representation on boards has brought, 10 years on, the sustained push for improved gender diversity has not yet delivered on its full potential. 

While targets have been an essential tool for demonstrating progress, too many companies are approaching the various dimensions of diversity on their boards sequentially, focussed only on meeting those targets and with a compliance mindset (the ‘one and done’ approach). They have missed the opportunity to broaden the life experiences around the table and bring very different ways of thinking into the boardroom. 

That approach is not sustainable. The business case for diversity remains compelling. Companies face mounting pressure for change that is coming fast, from all sides. Investors have already raised the bar for businesses and are holding accountable those that are lagging; greater transparency is allowing customers to make better informed choices; and employees increasingly want to work for businesses whose values they recognise and share.  Getting ahead of the curve is the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by pressures that are not well coordinated, and real change has to start with the board, as the face of the organisation.

And the risks of not changing are greater than ever. We end 2020 with an immensely challenging landscape for board decision making. Unprecedented levels of disruption, reinvention and change demand innovation at the very top of the organisation. New board appointments that are no more representative of the company’s employees, customers or supplier base will not bring the different perspectives needed to counter groupthink. This is more than gender and colour; boards that are prepared to challenge their established ways or working and ways of thinking will have the best opportunities to navigate through these times successfully. 

Our report ends with a series of practical recommendations as to how a board can embrace different life experiences and blend a wider range of thinking around the table, but delivering on the promise of greater board effectiveness and closer stakeholder relationships requires an authentic drive for change and a genuine commitment to inclusion. 

Targets are an important measure of progress but they are not the goal.

Download the report here...


Mark Chambers
Mark Chambers

Associate Director - Governance, IBE,

Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.

After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work. 

For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a non-executive director. He is a member of the board of the Care Quality Commmission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England, and chairs their Regulatory Governance Committee. Previous roles included the Chair role at Amref Health Africa and Audit Committee Chair at WWF,  where he also led the Committee that oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Read lessmore