Santa Clara Kicks Off Conversations on Boardroom Diversity With Former Silicon Valley CEO Shellye Archambeau
By Tracy Seipel
Talks are tied to launch of University’s Black Corporate Board Readiness program.
As a trailblazing former Silicon Valley tech CEO, Shellye Archambeau isn’t shy about calling out the reason many organizations fall short of their diversity goals—from hiring diverse employees, to grooming diverse leaders, to appointing diverse board members.
“Study after study after study has shown diversity actually helps with everything: innovation, with performance, with outcome, with shareholder return,” Archambeau said Thursday during a live-streamed fireside chat with Santa Clara University President Kevin O’Brien, S.J.
“Yet, we haven’t been very successful in many places in terms of actually driving and creating diversity. Why is that? Because we’re not intentional about it.”
O’Brien’s conversation with the Fortune 500 company board member and author of “Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms,” kicked off a public webinar series of frank and critical conversations on diversity in Silicon Valley hosted by SCU’s Silicon Valley Executive Center and the Leavey School of Business.
The four events, through February—including another on Thursday, Dec. 17—will also highlight the Executive Center’s newly-announced Black Corporate Board Readiness program, which aims to increase racial diversity in boardrooms.
Modeled after the Center’s Women’s Corporate Board Readiness program, the new BCBR program is open to Black executives with extensive senior leadership experience who are interested in public or private corporate board service.
Dennis Lanham, the Center’s executive director, notes that both programs not only align with the University’s Ignatian value of social justice, but the BCBR program in particular is “part of Fr. O’Brien’s commitment for us to become an anti-racist institution,” he said.
Diversity Starts at the Top
It’s a timely initiative: Similar to a 2019 California law that requires publicly traded companies in the state to add women to their boards or pay a fine, a new 2021 law will require that more professionals of color be added to the boards of the state’s 662 publicly traded companies.
The Black Corporate Board Readiness program was conjured in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, said Lanham, who was hired in 2017 to reinvigorate the Executive Center’s portfolio of programs. A part of that strategy is to create programs that better align with SCU’s Jesuit values.
“They are distinctive values that could help businesses tremendously, yet I think there’s a lack of that voice in the business community, definitely in Silicon Valley,” said Lanham in an interview prior to Thursday’s event. “So I wanted to build new certificate programs that speak more closely to our institutional identity.”
The nationwide racial reckoning that surfaced this summer spurred Lanham and Thane Kreiner, former executive director of Miller Center For Social Entrepreneurship, to use the successful Women’s Corporate Board Readiness program model as a platform to create a BCBR counterpart, which begins in February, in honor of Black History Month.
They then reached out to Black corporate board directors who could help them brainstorm. Archambeau—who sits on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta—was the first to respond.
Already committed to her book tour, however, she directed them to Robin L. Washington, former executive vice president and general counsel at Gilead Sciences, and a current board member at Google, Salesforce, and Honeywell. Washington is now one of six advisory board members for the program.
“We found ourselves quickly pulling together an entire ecosystem of Black corporate directors, many of whom know each other, who have rallied around this program and locked arms with us to build and launch it,” said Lanham.
To his knowledge, he said he is not aware of any other university-led BCBR program in the U.S.
Eyes on the Prize
Archambeau is pleased to be involved in the effort, signing on to help launch the new LSB speaker series focused on diversity.
Yet, as she emphasized during her conversation with Fr. O’Brien, in order for diversity to succeed, it must be intentional, and organized—just like any other business goal.
“If we want to grow the business, we set targets, we put plans in place, we make people accountable,” she explained Thursday.
“If we want to grow our enrollment, we set objectives, we make sure we understand what’s required to attract people, right? We’re very intentional. Well, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t happen if we aren’t intentional” about diversity, she told O’Brien.
And it’s not as unattainable as some make it seem.
“Anything that we do that is new is hard. If you were to go pick up a violin and you never played a violin before, it’s hard! Absolutely, it’s hard!” she explained.
“Does that mean it’s impossible? Does that mean you can’t do it? No. It just means you have to practice, you have to work at it.”
No Time to Waste
The noted business advisor, speaker, and author has faced her share of racist experiences in life and fought to overcome them. So it’s no surprise that Archambeau says diversity should already be integrated into the mission statements of all organizations and companies.
She urges leaders not to wait until they have to fill their last board seat or their last vice president role in order to make a company or board more diverse.
“Please,” she said. “You just hired 2,000 people and you’re needing one role? So just think about this. You just have to be intentional.”
O’Brien appreciated that notion of intentionality.
From Santa Clara’s not-for-profit perspective, for example, there are any number of boards of directors at the University. Not surprisingly, he said, when it comes to finding people to serve on not-for-profit boards, it usually comes down to people recommending other people.
“And so what can happen is, you get into sort of this tradition of just boards looking the same, one generation after the other,” he explained. “You need to be more intentional about breaking out of your own circles.”
The University, said O’Brien, “has to be better at being intentional about cultivating its pipeline for boards, which is what we are working on at Santa Clara.”