Board Diversity: e.l.f. calls out Gender Imbalance

Cosmetic giant e.l.f.’s new campaign reveals there are more men named Richard in top roles than women or other diversity groups by a landslide. Where is the board diversity?

When e.l.f. Cosmetics launched their recent Change the Board Game campaign, our ears pricked up.

For their campaign, the popular beauty brand teamed up with Oberland Agency to pull data on some of the largest US-based companies. Their findings were predictably bleak, showing there are more men named Richard, Rick or Dick than women and diversity groups by a landslide.

e.l.f. is not the first to raise this issue. The Big Three institutional investors – BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – have also been vocal about the need for more women in leadership roles. 

So, whilst this isn’t exactly breaking news to us, what inspired us to write this piece was the mixed reactions the e.l.f. campaign – plastered around New York City – received.

Some praised e.l.f. for drawing attention to an important issue; others felt the campaign, especially the tagline, trivialized the topic of diversity. Meanwhile, lots of people took offence to diversity being promoted. They argued that job roles, especially in leadership and board positions, should be based on qualifications and experience rather than focusing on diversity.

“We know first-hand that diversity initiatives often get criticized for undermining meritocracy,” says WeQual Founder Katie Litchfield, “but we can’t stress enough that what they really do is broaden what merit looks like. They challenge us to rethink who the ‘best’ candidate is and recognize how diverse experiences bring value that might not be captured by a resume alone.”

Harvard Corporate Governance and McKinsey have done extensive studies and analysis on the tangible benefits of diversity in corporate settings.

Traditional recruitment methods often favor candidates who mirror current leaders in demographic characteristics, background, and even alma mater. Richards are literally hiring more Richards.

Consider a renowned chef seeking the finest ingredients for a signature dish. If they only looked in their local farmer’s market because historically, it had served them well, they might miss out on exotic, diverse, flavors and textures found elsewhere. Ingredients that could take their dish to a whole new level.

The idea that only one market can offer the best is as narrow sighted as believing only apples can be grown in an orchard. It’s like only ever ordering vanilla ice cream because it’s the ‘gold standard’.

The simple fact is, fishing in the same pond, with the same tiny net, is going to catch you the same type of fish. If the candidate pool you’re searching in is full of white men named Richard, guess who you’re more likely to hire?

So why are companies still turning over the same patch of earth for their treasure?

Diversity Blockers

Network Bias: Leadership roles are frequently filled through networks that tend to be homogenous, typically dominated by those who already hold power –  often white males.

Recruitment Practices: Traditional recruitment methods often favor candidates who mirror current leaders in demographic characteristics, background, and even alma mater. Richards are literally hiring more Richards.

Cultural Fit: The concept of ‘cultural fit’ can be subtly coded to favor candidates who share similar backgrounds and experiences with current board members or executives, excluding diverse talents who might bring change.

Risk Aversion: Companies may be conservative about leadership changes, opting for candidates who represent continuity over those who could bring diverse perspectives but are seen as a riskier choice.

Lack of Mentorship: Diverse employees often lack access to mentorship opportunities that are crucial for advancement to executive levels, which perpetuates the cycle of underrepresentation at the top.

This is a very real issue, one that is standing in the way of organizations bringing in fresh ideas and new approaches. Diversity leads to better business outcomes all round: for the company’s bottom line, culture, employee satisfaction, and even the planet.

So, what can organizations do to broaden their horizons?

How to Improve Diversity

Structured Interviews: Keep the focus on the candidate’s abilities by asking all applicants the same questions in the same order. This helps reduce personal biases that can sneak into more casual conversations.

Anonymized Recruitment: Strip away details like names, schools, and even ages from applications. This lets qualifications speak louder than any personal details that could influence a decision.

Diverse Interview Panels: Include people from various backgrounds in the recruitment process. This isn’t just about ethnicity or gender but also different professional experiences and life perspectives.

Expanding Talent Pools: Actively seek candidates from a broader range of industries and educational backgrounds. For example, consider how skills from other sectors might translate into your own.

Bias Training: Regular workshops on unconscious bias can help your team understand their own fallibilities and make more objective decisions.

Transparent Metrics: Set clear diversity goals, track progress openly, and hold leaders accountable. This isn’t about hitting quotas but about committing to change and measuring how well you’re doing.

e.l.f. has taken action and partnered with the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to help sponsor 20 women and diverse professionals through their NACD AccelerateTM. Like WeQual, they’re giving women the support and empowerment needed to step up and take their seats at the table. 


What will you do to diversify your talent?

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