Interactive multichannel retailer HSN Inc. has named Fiona Dias, principal digital partner at Ryan Retail Consulting, to its board, bringing the number of HSNi board members to 10. With her addition, 50 percent of the board is female.
According to 2020 Women on Boards, a national campaign, only 13 other U.S. companies have boards composed of 50 percent women or more.
Dias was chief strategy officer of ShopRunner from August 2011 to October 2014. Before that, she was executive vice president of strategy and marketing at GSI Commerce, a provider of digital commerce solutions. Prior to that, Dias was executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Circuit City.
Mindy Grossman, ceo of HSNi, said that being a woman is not Dias’ only qualification. “She has extensive experience in marketing and managing consumer and retail brands,” Grossman said. “In addition, her e-commerce and digital marketing experience with a broad spectrum of brands aligns well with [HSNi’s] multiplatform strategies.” Other pieces of her background, such as serving as a director of other public companies where she had experience on the nominating, governance and compensation committees, should serve her well, Grossman said.
“From the beginning, the culture and philosophy of HSNi has always been that having diversity in the company and on the board is important if we’re going to transform and grow the company,” said Grossman. “Our company is 85 percent female. We’ve exceeded 50 percent digital and 20 percent mobile penetration.We have 96 million homes viewing. We reach a very broad audience. It’s very important that we reflect all areas of our business.”
According to experts, companies have a better track record of electing women to their boards when the chief executive officer is female.
Grossman said over the last couple of years, “we’ve been looking at how we can have the most effective and relevant talent on the board. We’ve added a number of board members over the past few years, including Ann Sarnoff, chief operating officer of BBC Worldwide Americas. We wanted someone with extensive media experience.”
When the company sought a board member with direct-to-consumer experience, it turned to Matthew Rubell, a senior adviser at Roark Capital Group and TPG Capital, who also held positions at Collective Brands, Cole Haan and J. Crew Group.
“Fifty percent of the population is female,” Grossman said. “In the U.S., in the next number of years, the diversity, in terms of ethnicity, will be drastically different. To attract the best talent, you have to reflect that you’re relevant. I wouldn’t be a proponent of having all women on the board or everybody with a digital background. We want to bring in people that are going to add something. It makes the conversation more dynamic.”
The conversation of diversity in the boardroom has been taking place for several years, in some places more contentiously than others.
Urban Outfitters Inc. in 2011 recommended shareholders reject a proposal by activist investors calling for the company to add minority groups to its board; the proxy resolution was rejected by a wide margin. “It’s incredibly surprising that a company that’s so dependent on women for its business is opposing this proposal. It’s crucial that the board understand fashion trends and the way the industry is moving. You can’t identify any women on the board of directors. They aren’t willing to talk about it or acknowledge it,” Calvert Investments said at the time.
Since then, Urban has appointed two women, Meg Haynes, wife of chairman Dick Haynes, and Elizabeth Ann Lambert, and prominently notes on its web site that it’s been “Recognized as a 2020 Women on Boards Winning Company,” a campaign for boardroom diversity.
“The qualities of leadership and great leadership are genderless,” Grossman said. “You have to inspire people, be accountable, set a vision and strategy. I’ve worked with great leaders who are male and not great leaders who are female. There are some differences in how women work. Women tend to be more thoughtful, and to be more collaborative. But those are just traits. What is more important is to have the right leaders with the right leadership qualities.
“For us, it wasn’t about driving to a percentage, driving to a number,” Grossman said. “It’s having the greatest amount of diversity that will really help support and make the business more successful. It’s critical that people be more open-mined as to where they look for candidates. I think it’s a big mistake to discount people because of what their background was. People take on new talents and add to their experience.”
“Everything has to come from an organic place and a cultural belief that it’s imperative today to be relevant and reflect diversity,” Grossman said.