Discussing Goldman Sachs' Diversity Announcement

Goldman Sachs will no longer do IPOs for companies with all-male boards, CEO David Solomon says.

Last Updated: May 18, 2020

Published: March 16, 2020

Lloyd Blunk/Unsplash

M13 will occasionally share what we’re overhearing on our Slack channels as our team unpacks the day’s news.

M13 kicked off the year with a fireside panel that explored a foundational topic for every startup: diversity, equality, and inclusion. We convened a thoughtful panel for our LA community that was co-hosted by M13 Partner and Head of Talent Matt Hoffman and ThinkHuman CEO Meredith Haberfeld—here are highlights from the conversation.

That same week, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon announced that his firm wouldn’t IPO companies with all-male boards, stirring much discussion on our internal Slack. Check it out:

Christine Choi 6:01 PM

Hi Matt! I don’t know what is more surprising, that people are surprised—I’m more of a NYPost reader than NYT reader—or that not everyone was psyched with the Goldman announcement. I’m encouraging that an established financial institution doesn’t think a company can be stewarded effectively by all-male boards. What’s the problem with that?

Matt Hoffman 6:06 PM

Hi Christine! I think in many ways, it clearly represents great progress. We've known for some time now that companies with diverse leadership teams and boards outperform the market and their peers.


That said, if there are any potential problems, it’s that an announcement with that, while certainly well-intended, comes with a risk of "tokenizing" women candidates. An approach like that may result in the new board members being seen as just a box the company needs to check to meet GS' requirements, rather than being added for the very real benefits that diverse teams bring.


I also noticed the language in the press about needing to add a "diverse" board member … obviously while teams can (and should be) diverse, individual people cannot be. And it's worth reminding ourselves that by automatically assuming that women/PoC = "diverse," that supports an unhelpful default assumption that white males are the norm, which makes it harder to break many implicit biases.

Christine Choi 6:40 PM

‍That's useful framing for their next steps. “Tokenizing” women puts undue burden on them and their allies. Also maybe this was sprung as an announcement without telling the rest of the organization; a famous and well-intentioned leader (cough cough) would routinely declare aspirational policies, and we’d be like, that’s great! … now how do we implement this!? What are the ways teams across organizations can actively prepare for opportunities like this, and what are considerations that can help prevent DEI initiatives from becoming a box checked to meet a KPI?

Matt Hoffman 7:00 PM

Probably unsurprisingly, from my experience the cultural traits that lead to being able to best—and most authentically—support DEI initiatives, are the same ones that are tied to the most successful leaders overall: a strong sense of curiosity, humility, and openness to new experiences.

For companies that are not used to having diverse teams, it can often be challenging at first to embrace new perspectives. It can feel slower as teams are learning new ways of communicating with one another, for example. But understanding the long-term benefits is key to making it work.

To follow that example, you don’t always want quick decisions—there’s value in healthy dissention and contrarianism, and avoiding groupthink is important. But that's one of the reasons why building diverse founding teams as early as possible—it makes it much easier to build a healthy long-term foundation of DEI in the culture so that it feels core to everything than comes after, and there’s much less change management required.

Christine Choi 7:04 PM

These are all qualities I want in my teammates! Okay, last question because I believe there’s a new Star Trek episode you’ve been excited to watch. Either that or your family is threatening to replace you with Baby Yoda. On your point that a person can't be diverse (yup yup), language is super important to get right, and it is also a lens into how much work there is still left to do.

Language can shut out perspectives and be a barrier from joining in the dialogue. Sometimes I am not sure if I am using the right terms and what my own blind spots are. Unconscious bias workshops at both M13 (thank you) and Virgin helped me unearth my own biases. How else can our leaders foster dialogue that moves their orgs forward?

Matt Hoffman 7:13 PM

Okay, so obviously I've already watched the new “Picard” by now, and any of my daughters would already trade me for Baby Yoda in a heartbeat. I think the best way companies can embrace language and approaches that support people from underrepresented groups is to ask them directly! That's part of what it means to bring them to the table. Don't assume that you know the best way to create inclusive cultures—make sure you are actually including the people whose experiences matter most.

7:14 And if you are already starting from the point of a largely homogenous culture, it's worth some introspection on why that might be, and then consider involving members of the broader community (there are some great consultative agencies that specialize in this like Paradigm, Peoplism, or Argo Collective for example) on steps you could take to make your organization more inclusive to diverse groups of future candidates and employees.

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