Board Political Balance: Do you need directors from across the political spectrum?

Author:Hall, April
 
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A study from Harvard Business School found that among U.S. boards, Republicans held 50% of board seats, 24% were Democrats, and 26% self-identified as Independents.

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a liberal, and former secretary of state Gen. Colin Powell, a conservative, have been working together for years on community projects including installing computers in public schools. In 2014, Powell joined the Salesforce board, and while they don't agree on a number of topics, Benioff refers to Powell as a mentor.

When Benioff advocated for corporate activism in politics, Powell told the Wall Street Journal that he told the CEO, "Be careful how far you climb up the tree--it will expose your backside."

That diversity of thought can keep political management or ownership grounded, says Daniel Korschun, a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Leadership and the Center for Corporate Governance at LeBow College of Business at Drexel University.

"For the last four or five years, politics have come up more and more with the CEO and the company--[they are] being thrust into political controversy more than ever before. Companies are also jumping into political waters voluntarily," Korschun says.

The relationship between Powell and Benioff, he explains, is an example of how "differences in perspective can help a company navigate tricky [political] issues. Having multiple perspectives gives a company more of a chance," to receive positive public reaction to political stands.

For years, stakeholders have looked for diversity in the boardroom including gender and race, and board search interviews include questions about skill sets and experience, but it's unclear if there should be a push for a diversity of politics in these polarizing times.

Some directors say there is no place for politics at the board table; that it makes no difference in fiduciary duty. But others admit that politics are coming up more and more as the 2020 election approaches, even if the current president's name is often not mentioned.

Can directors leave their political views at the boardroom door, and should they?

"We need diversity on the board in general," Korschun maintains. "I don't subscribe to the idea that we need perfect demographic diversity all of the time, but there are other diversities boards need and one of those is political." Diversity of politics, he adds, means diversity of opinion, for which every successful board strives.

Questions about a potential board...

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