What’s Keeping Directors Up at Night? The Future of Work, Diversity Issues

March 9, 2021
LRN Corporation

Boards of directors are looking to 2021 with a clearer eye on governance priorities after a year of unprecedented change and transformation. The future of work and diversity are at the top of their minds, according to a new survey from the National Association of Corporate Directors.

Four of the top five trends directors think will most influence their organizations in 2021 are related to the future of work, the report, 2020–2021 NACD Trends and Priorities of the American Boardroom, found. Half the directors asked said the increasing pace of digital transformation will be most influential; 49% said ensuring safe working environments for employees; 39% said changing cybersecurity threats; 38% said increased competition for talent.

Even though half of directors said digital transformation is a key issue, 40% said their boards don't spend enough time focusing on digital transformation issues.

"Directors are emerging from a tumultuous 2020 with a clear sense of the issues most impactful to their organizations," NACD CEO Peter R. Gleason said in a statement. "Key trends for 2021 indicate an outsized focus will be required to keep pace with digital transformation while maintaining a safe and inclusive work environment for employees."

The survey of more than 450 U.S. board members found 43% of directors think their boards don't dedicate sufficient time to the oversight of organizational diversity and inclusion efforts, while 28% said they want their board to allot more time for presentations from a diverse array of management voices.

Some of the other key trends and findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly half the respondents said their boards don't dedicate sufficient time to director education. That said, time spent on education increased by more than one-third compared to 2019, with the average independent public company director spending 33 hours on director education in the past 12 months. The increase is likely due to directors seeking more information on the quickly changing issues affecting their organizations.
  • Time spent at in-person events was obviously reduced in 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic, but directors said time attending virtual board and committee meetings increased during the year. Similarly, time spent reviewing reports and materials from within their organization increased.

One of the sobering takeaways from this year’s survey may be while it’s good to see organizational diversity and inclusion on the minds of some directors, there’s still a long way to go to address systemic racism and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

About the Author

LRN Corporation

Ethics and compliance leader providing tools, education, and advisory services for global companies to inspire principled performance. LRN’s overall approach recognizes the inherent limitations of rules and regulations in influencing behaviors. In our view, focusing on actions that help build and maintain a values-based culture will mean more compliance and reduced costs as a result of tangible and sustainable behavioral change.

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