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Why is achieving diversity so hard? Overcoming Homophily and Our Own Human Nature with Associate Professor Dr. James Cook of the University of Maine at Augusta

James Cook.jpg

Welcome to Episode 25, Season 6, of the Leadership Lyceum: A CEO's Virtual Mentor. This is part one of two episodes aimed as a celebration of Black History Month. If you are a board member or a senior executive interested in increasing diversity in your organizations, you will want to listen to this episode.  


In August 2020, USA Today reported that 11% of the directors across the 50 largest companies in the S&P 100 are black. On the other hand, gender diversity on boards has shown better improvement over the last seven years. BoardEx just released data that revealed gender diversity on corporate boards in the US increased about 10% over the seven-year period from 2014 to 2020, that is from 19% to 28.8%, a year on year average growth rate of about 1.4%. France and Norway are at 44% and 39% respectively, but their growth rate is slower than the US. You see, they started from a higher percentage level in the first place. We agree with all the benefits of having diverse boards, but we think that a1.4% growth rate is not even close to good enough. 


Since the 2017 founding of our sister company, Lyceum Leadership Consulting, we’ve placed diverse candidates in 24 out of 43 of our board and executive searches, or 56%. It's a track record we're proud of, but we can do better. If we assume the good intentions of everyone involved in board selection decisions to improve upon those numbers, then what is holding us all back? What is causing the stubborn persistence of diversity levels across the world? Lyceum Leadership Consulting thesis is that we are battling our own human nature


In my search work over the last decade and a half, I often observed that a missing link in creating boardroom diversity is often a lack of diversity in the professional networks of the board of directors or the nominating committee themselves. As often, candidates are identified and selected from these networks. In order to understand what causes a lack of network diversity to exist, it's instructive to understand sociology applied to these social networks. 


In this program, we examine ways of counteracting our own human nature to ultimately make significant improvements in boardroom and executive diversity.  


Joining me on the program is Associate Professor of Sociology, James M. Cook, from the University of Maine. One of Dr. Cook's areas of expertise is in the area of social network analysis. I discovered Professor Cook's work in my own research on this perplexing issue. I was especially intrigued and informed by an academic paper that he co-authored in 2001 called Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. 

Program Guide Episode 24

You can listen to this episode via the link below and follow along with the program guide or subscribe to our podcast where ever you listen to your podcasts.

0:00  Introduction to the program and Dr. James M. Cook, Associate Professor of Sociology, from the University of Maine. 


4:26 Definition of Homophily 


7:25 Homophily in the boardroom setting and the limitations of the board


11:20 Break 1 


11:19 Social Capital: Bonding and Bridging 


14:34 Break 2 


14:47 Part 1 of the Framework for Overcoming Homophily: Finding people who are different 


25:35 Break 3  


26:19 Part 1 (continued): Finding, or being found, at the individual level 


33:46 Break 4  


34:29 Part 2 of the Framework for Overcoming Homophily: Uniting through the instability that bringing people who are different causes  


40:24 Break 4 


40:51 Part 3 of the Framework for Overcoming Homophily: Managing conflicts that are bound to arise. 


44:15  Break 5 


44:38 Conclusion: Intergroup relations and advice toward improvement in diversity outcomes 


55:06  End of Program and Preview of Episode 26, part 2 of 2, in celebration of Black History Month 

Informative and Helpful Links 

USA Today Article

Biographies of Guests


Dr. James Cook


Dr. James Cook is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maine at Augusta. His primary areas of interest in research and teaching are political organizations, social networks, social media, and the sociology of gender. That interest is reflected in the development of new courses at UMA in Social Networks and Analyzing Social Media and in community service (where his current projects are attempts to deepen student connections with the UMA Community Gardens civic engagement project and the Maine State Legislature).


His present research interests include applications of social network and social identity theory to social media, the development and testing of a social network model of state legislators, and the application of workplace theories of glass ceilings and escalators to explain patterns of cooperation among legislators along and across lines of gender.  He is also engaged in research regarding the social network characteristics of publicly-communicating groups of sexual minorities. 

Dr. James Cook received a B.A. in Sociology from Oberlin College in 1993 and M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Arizona in 1996 and 2000, respectively.

Thomas B. Linquist 

Your host Thomas B. Linquist is the Founder and Managing Director of Lyceum Leadership Consulting and Lyceum Leadership Productions. Over his 15 years in management and leadership consulting he has served a wide array of corporate clients.  This includes leadership assessment and search for chief executive officers, chief financial officers, chief operating officers and boards of directors.  He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and over his 30-year career has served in a variety of roles: as an engineer with Shell Oil Company, a banker with ABN AMRO Bank, and as treasurer was the youngest corporate officer in the 150+ year history at Peoples Energy Company in Chicago.  He is an expert on hiring and promotion decisions and leadership development.  Over the course of his search career, he has interviewed thousands of leaders. 

Program Disclaimer

The only purpose of the podcasts is to educate, inform and entertain. The information shared is based on the collection of experiences of each of the guests interviewed and should not be considered or substituted for professional advice. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experience and conclusions, and neither The Leadership Lyceum LLC nor any company providing financial support endorses or opposes any particular content, recommendation or methodology discussed in this podcast.


This podcast Leadership Lyceum: A CEO’s Virtual Mentor has been a production of The Leadership Lyceum LLC. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.

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