Why Women and Minorities on the Board of Directors Need Mentors

These days almost everyone agrees on the importance of diversity. When people of different backgrounds and ways of thinking come together with a common goal, they can achieve the unthinkable and make possible the seemingly impossible. While many organizations are taking a bottom-up approach to increasing diversity at their firms (e.g., diversity campus recruiting and new hire mentoring programs), it is at least as important that they work to promote a culture of diversity among their senior leadership as well.

Studies show abysmal numbers of women and minorities on the C-suite and as board of directors of the Fortune 500. The current study attempts to shed some light on why women and minorities are less likely to secure multiple board appointments. McDonald and Westphal (2013) surveyed a group of ‘first-time directors,’ or individuals appointed to their first board of directors role, and found that women and minorities received comparatively less mentoring about how to participate appropriately in board proceedings. As a result, their adherence to established boardroom norms may be less consistent, making it less likely that incumbent directors will support their appointment to other boards.

What is the takeaway message? Mentoring is key to helping women and minorities obtain multiple board of director appointments, and securing their statuses among the corporate elite.


McDonald, M. L., & Westphal, J. D. (2013). Access Denied: Low Mentoring of Women and Minority First-Time Directors and Its Negative Effects on Appointments to Additional Boards. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 1169-1198.