Tech Business Leader Linda Gooden: Diversity Improves Innovation and Competitiveness In Corporate America - Black Enterprise

Tech Business Leader Linda Gooden: Diversity Improves Innovation and Competitiveness In Corporate America

Linda Gooden
Linda Gooden (Image: File)

When it comes to choosing corporate boards in which she will serve, Linda Gooden focuses on “the culture and core values of the organization, and the belief that I can make a meaningful contribution to the company’s mission, which in turn leads to increased shareholder value.”

The companies fortunate enough to gain her board service clearly benefit from an incisive corporate leader who has tackled a myriad of complex business issues during her nearly 40 years in the aerospace and defense industry. In her stewardship of Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services, the 40,000-person operation produced more than $10 billion in revenues by providing integrated information technology solutions, systems, and services to support worldwide objectives of civil, defense, intelligence, and other government customers.

In her board role, Gooden clearly states the governing body’s mandate of oversight of a given company’s procedures, practices, risks, and ethics to protect shareholders’ interests while acting as a counterbalance for management. To that end, she believes term limits are essential to “allow boards to continuously refresh talent and gain fresh perspectives. After 10 years, I believe as board members and humans you tend to begin to identify more with management than the shareholders, which can compromise your independence and your oversight role as a director.”

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The following are edited excerpts of the email response to questions from Black Enterprise from Gooden, a B.E. Registry member who serves on the boards of S&P 500 companies ADP, General Motors and The Home Depot.

With consistent and continuous data that had made the business case for diverse and inclusive boards as a driver of corporate innovation and profitability, why does there continue to be resistance from much of the leadership of public corporations to make their boards reflect America?

Based on my observation, I am not sure resistance is the correct characterization. I haven’t observed a real resistance to hire diverse directors. There are several issues such as ownership, institutionalism, and accessibility that have to be resolved before true diversity progresses at an acceptable rate. These issues are interconnected and prevail at the board level of most corporations, which can be a deterrent to increased diversity. Conventional wisdom suggests that diversity is growing slowly but steadily particularly with more women joining boards — but that the progress generally seems both insufficient and inconsistent.

I find that enlightened companies recognize board diversity is a business imperative. The demographics of the nation and the composition of the workforce are changing along many dimensions. The likely business stakeholders—customers, shareholders, and employees—are becoming increasingly diverse in terms of gender, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, experiences, expectations, age, and preference. Diverse boards are better positioned to offer the skills, competencies, and insights to favorably position the business.

How do you believe your presence on a given board impacts that corporation’s approach to either workforce, management, supplier, or board diversity?

I feel my role is consistent with other members of public company boards of directors in that I offer my unique perspectives and ideas, based on my diversity and experience, to increase shareholder value by ensuring the business is focused on executing its strategy; identifying and evaluating significant opportunities and risks; and assessing CEO and key executive performance.

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I encourage diversity and inclusion as a business imperative to ensure the business has access to the broadest pool of perspectives, skill, and ideas to add value and enhance innovation and competitiveness of the organization. I have been fortunate in that the companies I work with see diversity as a core value and demonstrate it in their business decisions.

What strategies or approaches should be employed to ensure that not only do we get more blacks on boards but we identify those who will be vocal and effective in pushing the diversity agenda?

I advocate three strategies for increasing diversity on boards: First, we need to encourage more diversity in the C-suite, which is the pool of talent for selecting board members. Secondly, we should encourage candidates who are considering board service to get some level of board experience by working on not-for-profit boards. A tenure with a not-for-profit board allows prospective board candidates to gain board experience while working for a good cause. It is also a great way to build relationships and expand one’s network. Finally, I would suggest prospective board candidates work with a prominent search firm that places new directors, to identify boards that align with their experience and interest.

We can also influence and reshape Nominating and Governance Committees to develop board slates that reflect diverse backgrounds, experiences, expertise, skill sets, and viewpoints by actively seeking director candidates who bring diversity of age, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

What needs to be done to expand the pipeline of board-ready African American executives and entrepreneurs? How can young African American professionals position themselves for future board service?

The company’s culture, core values, and commitment to diversity and inclusion are essential to expanding the pipeline of diverse executives. Companies must live their values and practice both diversity and inclusion to ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to be both hired and promoted and that once hired, they feel like a valuable member of the organization.

As young African Americans, there are a number of things one can do to position for future board service: Understand the business strategy and mission; demonstrate strong, consistent performance on each opportunity; seek opportunities to continuously learn including attending company-sponsored training and pursuing advanced degrees; actively apply for and prepare for promotions; and join not-for-profit boards.

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