As someone who’s spent much of my career as a journalist, I’ve watched with interest as the issue of diversity in corporate America has moved to front page news. Increasingly, the focus has turned to improving diversity at the very top layer of companies - that is, in the boardroom.
Until recently, board diversity wasn’t an issue I could personally reach out and touch. That has changed. Last year, I had the honor of joining the boards of the New York Stock Exchange and two other organizations, the Tent Partnership for Refugees and the Eurasia Group Foundation.
My service on these boards let me see firsthand just how important effective boards are to the organizations they serve. I’ve witnessed how robust discussion in the boardroom is so critical to properly vetting ideas and guiding strategies. At a time when leaders are being disrupted by new technologies, an unpredictable market and fast-growing competitors, diverse viewpoints and opinions could not be more valuable.
I began to wonder what we could do about this issue. As I talked with CEOs of our NYSE-listed companies, it became clear that while the problem is well-documented, the solutions for finding diverse board candidates are not. My role here is to scale connections among our 2,300 listed companies. Why not scale those connections to help identify diverse board candidates and help place them on private and public company boards?
So became the NYSE Board Advisory Council.
Launching today, the council comprises 15 founding member CEOs of our NYSE community. These individuals have committed to using their own personal networks to find diverse candidates who are interested in serving on corporate boards. They hail from some of the biggest global brands: Coca-Cola, Merck, Procter & Gamble and many more.
Candidates identified by the founding members will be introduced to CEOs in our NYSE community who are seeking board members. Through a series of regular events designed to facilitate these connections, we hope to make an impact on expanding diversity on boards while at the same time, providing a valuable solution for our NYSE community of companies. Our first Board Networking Summit will be held today at the NYSE.
When we first reached out to ask corporate leaders to join the Council, I was surprised at the response. I expected some reasonable interest given the importance of the issue. What we got, however, was a stunning level of enthusiasm. The CEOs we heard back from care deeply about this issue and are actively seeking solutions. They know diverse boards can lead to better decision-making and can set the tone for an entire company.
In fact, the response from CEOs was so great that we expanded the size of the Council from our original concept of seven members to accommodate the many leaders who were interested in sharing their wisdom, experience and networks. Our founding members are a terrific group, including:
- Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines
- Stewart Butterfield, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Slack
- Henry Fernandez, Chairman and CEO of MSCI
- Kenneth C. Frazier, Chairman and CEO of Merck
- Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson
- Jennifer Hyman, Co-Founder and CEO of Rent the Runway
- Jeff Lawson, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Twilio
- Sheila Lirio Marcelo, Founder, Chairwoman and CEO of Care.com
- Kathryn Marinello, President and CEO of Hertz
- James Quincey, Chairman-Elect and CEO of Coca-Cola Company
- Melissa Reiff, CEO, The Container Store Group
- Susan Story, President and CEO of American Water Works
- Cyrus Taraporevala, President and CEO of State Street Global Advisors
- David Taylor, Chairman, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble
- Jan Zijderveld, CEO and Board Member of Avon Products
The NYSE is deeply committed to this effort and will oversee the work of the Council, led by Sharon Bowen, Seneca Women partner and former CFTC Commissioner, Duriya Farooqui, President of Point A, a Georgia Pacific-backed center for supply innovation, and myself. Sharon and Duriya are both board members of Intercontinental Exchange, the NYSE’s parent company.
Our hope is that, in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to look back at a number of diverse directors the Council has helped place. Issues like board diversity are not solved overnight, but through the continued and persistent efforts of those who care most deeply about them. I’m so proud to see the NYSE Board Advisory Council come together and join in those efforts.