E Pluribus Unum: Building Unity Amidst Diversity in Your Board

The phrase “e pluribus unum” has graced American coins since the late 18th century. Meaning “out of the many, one,” the Latin phrase expresses the loftiest of our national ideals. Achieving unity amid diversity is also a goal for corporate leaders. 

The goal of a board isn’t to pull together a group of like-minded individuals but to cultivate a chorus where diverse voices and perspectives come together in pitch-perfect harmony. Here’s how executive teams can pursue unity for better decisions and governance.

Bringing Together Diverse Perspectives

Some leaders are naturally concerned about combining dissimilar perspectives, fearing that it will lead to conflict. But disagreements aren’t the only product of a diverse leadership board. 

Instead, executive teams can share the benefits of a diverse cross-section of voices, which can add value to your discussions and decision-making process. After all, the goal is unity — not uniformity. Here are just some of the ways a diverse team can enhance your governance strategy.

Diversity of Thought

Few things stifle corporate boards as much as groupthink. It may seem easy when like-minded board members come to a consensus, but that doesn’t always mean that those decisions are in the company’s best interests. And in some cases, the team may simply be affirming the desires of the CEO, which is another problem entirely. 

Diverse voices can mitigate this issue by generating robust discussion so that all options are considered and all voices are heard. Diversity of thought allows other team members to learn from those with different backgrounds, providing innovative solutions that benefit the organization.

Faster Decision-Making

On the surface, considering diverse perspectives may sound time-consuming. But diversity in the boardroom can actually lead to faster decisions. How? 

Think about the complexity of modern business processes. Corporate leaders must take into account how disconnected systems and business activities intersect. That demands leaders with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. 

Leveraging these perspectives can improve your team’s ability to devise solutions to present challenges. It can also help you refine strategies to account for the many and varied moving parts of your enterprise.

Shareholder Representation

Your shareholders may already expect you to pursue diversity at every level of your organization. By incorporating diversity into your leadership team, external stakeholders and investors may feel more confident that their needs are being addressed at the highest levels of your company.

This is about more than DEI initiatives. Diversity in your governing board also means leveraging those from diverse backgrounds so that you have a robust menu of skills and experiences to draw from and apply to your most complex challenges.

Innovation and Creativity

Perhaps most importantly, diversity fosters innovation and creativity. When board members have an opportunity to connect to differing perspectives, it can lead to whole new solutions that no one would have devised on their own.

This kind of creativity is especially important in an age of unprecedented business hurdles. Agility will be key to staying resilient on the road ahead. And the best way to achieve business agility will be through a diverse team committed to creative problem-solving.

How to Pursue Unity in a Diverse Board

A diverse board is not without its challenges. Executive teams will need to take steps to preserve unity among board members and to ensure that all members are aligned with the core company mission. But what is the best way to achieve the unity you’ll need to thrive?

Consider What the Board Really Needs

Would your organization benefit from an HR perspective? Do you need assistance with integrating new technology? Maybe you have a specific financial challenge you’d like to address. Regardless of the challenge, your goal remains the same: to find board members whose backgrounds are well-suited to these tasks. 

How will this build unity? Rather than pursuing diversity for its own sake, you’re aligning your board members to address a direct, measurable problem. And if you include other board members in this decision process, you’ll reach a shared understanding that diverse perspectives are an important leadership asset.

Establish Clear Objectives

More than a decade before the civil rights movement, President Truman signed an executive order that ended segregation in the U.S. military. The armed forces were the first to integrate, and many analysts believe that the secret to success lay in the fact that they were committed to a common cause.

Board members need their “marching orders.” Having a common purpose will foster greater unity among diverse groups of people. CEOs and board chairs should work to remind the board of the company’s vision and how their current decisions fit into that larger picture.

Address Unconscious Bias

When dealing with diversity across lines of race or gender, there may be value in addressing unconscious bias. Educate board members on the ways that unconscious bias can creep into the boardroom and devalue the contributions of others.

As you proceed, you’ll discover continued opportunities to elevate the contributions of diverse board members. When CEOs and board chairs honor the contributions of underrepresented voices, the rest of the board will pick up on this cue.

Encourage Gracious Dissent

Not all conflict is a bad thing. In some cases, a contentious dialogue can lead to better decision-making and innovation, bringing harmony to differing perspectives. Of course, this also demands that all parties respect one another while discussing critical issues.

One way to achieve this is by encouraging board members to repeat the opposing viewpoint. While this doesn’t solve the issue immediately, it ensures that both parties understand the perspective of the other without distorting their views.

Build Relationships

Some of the best discussions come from a place of trust. Work to build relationships between board members so that your group harmonizes both inside and outside the boardroom. Having pre-meeting meals or activities can break down barriers and nurture greater trust and resilience. 

CEOs and board chairs should do the same. By spending time with each board member, leaders will gain greater insight into their perspectives and be able to highlight this value during the meeting itself.

Balancing Your “Pluribus” With Your “Unum”

Achieving unity in diversity is a lofty goal in large part because you never quite get there. But the more that boards can seek to balance diverse perspectives with a unified vision, the stronger and more capable they will become.