Last night, KPMG and Out Leadership hosted the initiative’s inaugural LGBT+ Director Summit (following events in 2015 and 2016 in New York and San Francisco) which convened more than 60 senior LGBT+ executives to discuss the importance of LGBT+ diversity on corporate boards.
The program included a panel discussion with Susan Angele (Senior Advisor, KPMG’s Board Leadership Center), Alexander Saint-Amand (Chief Executive Officer, GLG), Sally Susman (Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Pfizer; member of the board of WPP Group), and Keith Wetmore (former Chair and Chief Executive of Morrison & Foerster member of the board of North Highland).
Susan Angele and Stephanie Sandberg of Out Leadership (who moderated the panel) published an op-ed about the event in the Huffington Post, which you can read here.
Susan Angele kicked the conversation off: “Support for LGBT+ employees is not new to KPMG, where we have included sexual orientation as a protected category for almost 25 years, gender identity for almost 10 years…. The firm’s pride organization has thriving chapters across the country. And our new Board Leadership Center, which formed a year ago, unites several internal teams as well as the firm’s support for partner organizations, including Women Corporate Directors and now Quorum.”
“When you think about boards and everything that they have to do, the job is so hard and so important that there has been a recognition that you need every brain from everywhere and every type of person you can get it around that table,” Angele continued. “The recognition of gender diversity has been the most prominent shift, but diversity of all kinds – diversity of background, thought, diversity of geography – is becoming much more recognized as an absolute business imperative. And as we know, some of the investors are really pushing this conversation forward on their end. It’s a good time to be talking about this, and to focus on a form of diversity, LGBT+ diversity, that hasn’t historically been included.”
Out Leadership Founder and Principal Todd Sears recognized Mario Palumbo, one of the founders of Quorum: “…Mario is here tonight, and he first proposed the idea of Quorum. He called me a few years ago and asked ‘Who is working on getting LGBT+ people on boards?’ And here we are.”
Out Leadership’s Managing Director, Advisory and Client Services Stephanie Sandberg, began the panel with by acknowledging a key premise: “As we begin, I’ll note that we have an implicit bias – which is that LGBT+ people and leaders have real business impact. We are not advocating for checking a box. The argument, as we seek to raise awareness of the importance of LGBT+ people on boards, is that we bring an important perspective on talent, a perspective on the market, on the minds of consumers; that we are a different and valuable voice in the room. And, of course, the LGBT+ community is intersectional, so we are often a double and sometimes a triple “threat.” We’re not having this conversation just because we want to claim our place alongside the other groups seeking representation – although visibility is important – but also because we believe it will have a positive business impact.”
Angele continued: “Appointments to corporate boards are very similar to Supreme Court appointments. Everyone knows this is the wrong approach, but it hasn’t changed a lot. Short of ‘impeachment’ you are there for life. So ‘fit’ becomes incredibly important. People talk about diversity and many are legitimately interested in it, but I’ll be honest, some boards are more interested than others. Ultimately, if it is a public company, for many decision makers it comes down to the question: ‘how am I going to tell my investors that I got the very best person for this board?’”
Alexander Saint-Amand, CEO of GLG, brought his experience seeking board members to the table, and offered potential candidates some advice: “My advice is to pursue a slightly different path, which is to cultivate a CEO over a period of time, in a natural way. Try to be helpful. So when a seat opens up, you are someone they trust and they can turn to you. I can think of a specific person who has been engaged with me in that way. I know she likes my business, I know she is going to be helpful, I know we get along. And if a board position opened up, I guarantee you I’d think of her.”
“If you want to be on a board someday, I think one clear pathway would be to look through the top private equity firms, top venture capital firms,” Amand continued. That’s a good way to select for growing companies. If you find a company that interests you, or a CEO whose picture you like, give them a call. Say you want to get together and talk about their business. Try to be helpful.”
Sally Susman, one of two LGBT+ directors on the panel, noted that her sexual orientation was “a minor plus” when she was being vetted for the board of the WPP Group. “People thought it was nice, and it wasn’t much of an issue. It wasn’t really discussed other than pleasantries about the family. Shortly after I got put on the board, Lord Browne published his book, where he talked about boards being pale, male, and stale. And the question came up, what does it take to get a gay person on a board. And really, what I see is that it takes leadership from the CEO, and whether they are willing and able to look at a whole person. Being a woman was helpful. Being in the field was helpful. And after it was announced, I also think it was a plus for their employees.”
Keith Wetmore noted that LGBT+ executives have potentially developed mechanisms that will serve them well in the board director role – once they navigate the pipeline. “So many board seats are filled through connections at the CEO level. I’ll note that I don’t think that other members of the C-Suite are very central or helpful to this process. Boards oversee compensation and hiring and firing, so a CEO is essentially asking for someone to be their boss. Which is a very tricky conversation. And, personally, I think LGBT+ people have developed in a way that has given them many skills that are useful in this. To be able to say to a CEO, not in so many words, ‘I can help support and develop you,’ that’s a very delicate dance. But I think there are natural, bridge-building skills that some people who grew up with the experience of being LGBT+ bring to work. It happens to be one of my strengths.”