How to make an effective contribution to a closely-knit board run by a longtime and rigid chair, and how to do so as the only woman? This is the predicament this fictional case study presents Jane Pruitt, a 54-year-old CFO coming in from another company under shareholder pressure. She is striving to make a much-needed impact on a privately-held formerly family-run metalworking machinery and equipment manufacturer overseen by five male board members (and financially interconnected friends) all about 70 years of age. Jane begins to suspect that the intellectual, generational and gender diversity she was hired to provide was brought on board only for public show.
The case raises important questions about the value of diversity in a team environment and will engage any student who has been an outsider on an insular, club-like team.
This case presents several challenges that are relevant for organizations today. First, it explores a newcomer’s perspective on being an outsider in an insider-dominated setting. Second, the case presents a number of common board/team practices that undercut effectiveness. Finally, it gives students the opportunity to think and talk about board diversity, its merits and challenges, and possible paths forward to success.
Within that setting, several instructional objectives can be met:
Diversity: The experience of the outsider, and the deep frustrations of not fitting in.
Board Process: Board effectiveness requires both the right board composition and the right board process.
Leadership: The next leader is often already at the table but may not match the stereotype of the old one.