Mika Pantzar is a Professor at the University of Helsinki, and his research topics are consumers and technology. He is a valued economist and public commentator.
“Researchers are always looking for new ways to question what we already know and how we are working on certain problems. That must be recognized when thinking about asking for a researcher to join a board. I am a member of a couple of boards, and I think that a researcher’s profile suits working on a board very well.”
Since the 1990s, Pantzar has been a guest and speaker at companies and corporations. He has been interviewed a lot, both privately and publicly, and that has been the starting point for his side career on boards. Now, he is on the boards of a couple companies.
Researchers bring diversity in terms of culture and ways of working
“I have said many times that I tend to misbehave. I think that one reason is that I have a researcher’s nature: I like to question the surrounding world all the time, and I’m not a ‘yes man’. In the academic world, that’s quite a normal thing, but the same cannot be said about business.”
In business, it’s common that once strategies or goals are defined, they are not touched afterward. Then, everybody just does their part to reach those goals. Scholars are quite different – what they do is question the assumptions and chosen approach and thus redefine their course of action.
What this means is that researchers bring diversity to corporate boards in terms of culture and ways of working, to name a few examples. That’s why they are excellent additions to boards. And naturally, they are leading experts in their fields of study. While the value of researchers is better understood all the time, scholars in many subject areas have not been embraced by corporate boards.
“I work in the Faculty of Social Sciences, and many corporate leaders are looking forward to hearing my colleagues who have a background in social sciences. However, they are not asked to join boards as much as economics or business scholars. That seems asymmetrical to me, but hopefully, their knowledge will be better utilized in the future.”
During the few last decades, the role of expertise has grown. For a long time, corporate boards were insider groups for men, where CEOs and chairpersons mingled together, and there were basically no female members at all.
“I don’t understand how that even was possible. It seems like a terribly corrupt system.”
Fortunately, there has been substantial progress, but corporate boards still have much work ahead in order to become more open, representative and effective.
Diversity – why we need to keep talking about it
“Based on research, we know that diverse boards perform better in regards to financial metrics. This is not something we just form opinions for or against. It’s a statistical fact. I think that the key factor why diversity matters is that it enables a group of people to find new and different viewpoints. It makes it possible for boards to adapt.”
The fierce competition for talent shows that companies are looking for the very best employees. The same applies to board members. However, a lot of talent has been unused as a consequence of women being excluded from top management positions.
“We need more women to join boards and take the roles they deserve because that’s the only way we can make the most out of our talent pool.”
Pantzar has also noticed that when he says something in an interview, people quite often nod and accept his expert opinion. But if a younger woman gives the same comments, she often gets all kinds of negative feedback and has her expertise questioned.
“I’m sad to see that still, this is the case. We must use our power and positions to change that.”