From diversity and inclusion to pay equity, Herman Bulls gets involved as an "instigator" and "role model" for the CEO, management, the workforce and the community. And a lot of that work happens outside the boardroom.
"You need to know the organization. That doesn't mean going to meetings four times a year and sitting in a room and getting briefings from people. We call it 'the happy talk,'" explains Bulls. Directors, he adds, have to be out in the organization if they're going to understand whether something problematic with the corporate culture is "lurking in the environment."
That means talking to c-suite executives without the CEO present, and it also means taking time to meet with employees, stresses Bulls, who estimates he spends about 20% of his time doing just that.
To that end, Bulls attended a diversity and inclusion (D&I) event at financial services company USAA this past summer attended by about 500 company employees. He spent four hours at the convening and was particularly struck by one African-American female employee, Lasha Murray, who talked about the challenges she faced coming to work with colorful hair and clothing, and big earrings, something she said was part of her culture.
Her takeaway message, Bulls recalls, was how important it is to be able to "come to work and be your authentic self."
There was also an employee who came to the United States when she was 6 and talked about her relatives' struggles trying to emigrate to this country. And a gay man who talked about his childhood--trying to hide who he was, and how empowering it was that he could come out at work and be himself.
It's all about creating a corporate culture that's inclusive, and Bulls believes boards should play a key role in fostering that. "The most important job we do is selecting the CEO and improving strategy, but it's also critical we understand the culture, where there are gaps," he says. "You have to ask the tough questions from management about culture."
Diversity and inclusion are of critical importance to Bulls when it comes to all the boards he sits on, and that means tying...