How to Create a More Diverse, Inclusive Trustee Board

16 February 2022

Auto-enrolment has permanently changed the demographics of pension saving.

While there is still more to be done to make sure everyone can save comfortably for retirement, more women now save into a defined contribution (DC) pension than ever before, and saving among young employees has skyrocketed from around 25% in 2009 to 85% in 2020.

The profile of trusteeship hasn’t exactly kept pace with those changes, with many boards a world away from the membership demographics of the schemes that they run.

If trustees are to deliver good outcomes for members, they need to understand them, be able to make effective decisions on their behalf, and have the skills to implement those decisions. Improving board diversity (i.e. having a range of different perspectives) and inclusion (i.e. valuing everyone’s experience and background) is vital to achieving this.

It can be dangerously easy to dismiss diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a ‘nice to have’ and find reasons for not addressing it. But The Pensions Regulator has made it clear that it expects schemes to respond. Its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and 21st Century Trustee campaign both explicitly link good governance and D&I.

While we see more women on trustee boards, that is not the same as properly addressing cognitive diversity, shaped by life experiences and influenced by age, sexuality, education, ethnicity and socio-economic background. To really address diversity means changing trustee recruitment methods, and rethinking the way in which boards are run.

PTL has helped many boards through this process and seen first-hand how both diversity and inclusivity improve governance. And we’ve actively recruited a diverse workforce ourselves over many years.

Every board can take simple steps now to improve its diversity. Here are some tips to get started:

Create a D&I policy

Having a formal policy shows new and existing trustees that the board is serious about diversity and governance. It also demonstrates commitment to D&I for the long term.

Understand your current position

The best starting point for improving diversity is to explore the skills, life experience, and expertise you have on your board, and identify gaps. Specialists can help, or you may be able to get support from a sponsoring employer that has already gone through a similar process. You can then start looking for candidates to fill those gaps. That could mean recruiting additional board members, or filling vacancies as they occur.

Rethink how you advertise MNT positions

Aim to reach people who may not have considered trusteeship in the past. Use compelling, everyday language and focus on the skills you need (rather than pensions knowledge). Say that you actively welcome more diverse applications or ask for anonymised CVs that focus on abilities without revealing details such as age, gender, and ethnicity.

Improve your interview process

Invite people from outside the trustee board to help with interviews. That reduces the risk of existing board members perpetuating a lack of diversity.

Run inclusive meetings

Once you’ve attracted more diverse trustees, help them to be an active part of the trustee board. Allow people to attend meetings by video link, for example, if it’s hard for them to travel. The timing of meetings could also be important for board members who have caring responsibilities.

Encourage debate

Diverse boards need Chairs who are able to encourage and manage proper debate, as well as making all trustees feel included. Decision-making can take longer with a more diverse range of participants – but the benefits of stronger, more appropriate outcomes far outweigh the short-term gain of rapid agreement.

As well as improving governance, there are potential direct benefits for members from diversity. Being able to show that a scheme is run by people like the members themselves can improve engagement, which ultimately could drive up contribution rates and improve quality of retirement.

How ZEDRA can help

ZEDRA’s team of Pensions, Independent Trustee and Governance experts is on hand to guide Trustees and Independent Governance Committees (IGCs) through all aspects of Trusteeship and Pension Governance.

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