At Hershey, a confectionery company in the United States with a $22.6 billion market capitalization, the 11-member board has five female directors, including its Chief Executive, Michele Buck, as well as a female CFO. “We have never compromised skills for diversity,” says Pam Arway, who joined in 2010. She was targeted as part of a move by another director, Jim Nevels, who was keen to expand both ethnic and gender representation. “He wanted to make the board more representative of the customer, employees, and the shareholder base,” Arway says.
Part of the secret, says director Mary Kay Haben, former president of Wrigley North America, was actually to focus first on the skill set and only afterwards on gender. Haben, for example, was targeted for her operations and marketing expertise. This is easier to do in consumer companies, which historically have more female leaders than some other industries.
For a first female hire, Haben thinks it’s particularly important to choose someone who has already served on a board, in order to counter any arguments of tokenism. After that, says Arway, you need to shift your lens toward potential in order to find a deep pool of diverse candidates.
“You need to stop judging people on their pedigree and focus on their skills,” she says. Because board turnover is no longer seen as a lifetime sinecure, directors can afford to take a chance by looking beyond current CEOs.