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Starbucks: Setting the Example for Diverse Board Membership?

Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for the New York Times, recently covered Starbucks’ board of directors, which — thanks to three newly announced additions — is set to be one of the nation’s most diverse boards.

“The new directors, who will require shareholder approval, will be Rosalind Brewer, an African-American woman who is president and chief executive of Sam’s Club and vice president of Walmart Stores; Satya Nadella, an Indian-American who is chief executive of Microsoft Corporation; and Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the Denmark-born executive chairman of the Lego Brand Group,” writes Sorkin.

So why is this a big deal? Well, while our nation is growing increasingly diverse, and women and minorities are making some headway in the employee ranks generally, they often lag behind white men in upper management and executive positions. In his article Sorkin writes, “Women still hold slightly less than 20 percent of public corporate board seats. African-Americans hold less than 9 percent, Asians even less, about 5 percent, and Hispanics only about 4 percent.”

According to Sorkin, “With the additions, the Starbuck’s board would grow to 14 people; would be 29 percent female and 36 percent ethnic minority; and would include a range of ages from millennials to baby boomers.” And this diversity is no accident, according to Starbucks founder and chairman Howard Schultz. The New York Times quotes Schultz as saying, “I’ve tried to create an environment within the board that would be culturally similar to that of the company … People with like-minded values, domain expertise, diverse and deeply committed to transparency with a comprehensive understanding of our aspirations to create a great enduring company balancing profit with conscience.”

Diversity at the top is valuable for a number of reasons. For one, a diverse executive team or board of directors can better connect with a diverse nation than a group with very similar backgrounds and viewpoints. It’s crucial that businesses with national, indeed global, aspirations attract talent that represents all of their potential market. And a great way to attract diverse talent is to show potential employees that diversity is celebrated at the highest levels of the organization — meaning they have something to aspire to and room to grow in the organization.

By increasing the diversity of its board with some well-publicized additions, Starbucks is sending a great message to potential new talent. How diverse is your board? Your organization? It's way past time to be inclusive!

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