What is a Modern Board?

Kira Ciccarelli

What is a Modern Board?

Why Workforce Issues and Cybersecurity are Essential Board Agenda Items in 2021

Listen to Episode 48 on Apple Podcasts

Guests: Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior Managing Director of Accenture’s Global Talent, and Larry Clinton, President of the Internet Security Alliance (ISA)

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. What does a modern board look like? Sullivan dives into key findings from Accenture’s Modern Boards report.
  2. How can boards be more responsive to workforce issues? COVID-19 has catapulted workforce issues to the top of the board agenda, and Sullivan weighs in on this important shift.
  3. What can boards do to improve cyber risk management? Clinton discusses the current state of cybersecurity in the U.S. and what boards can be doing to effectively manage cyber risk.


As business landscapes continue to shift, the definition of what makes a modern board is evolving. Hear from Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior Managing Director of Accenture’s Global Talent, and Larry Clinton, President of the Internet Security Alliance, on two issues that should be top of the agenda for any modern board in 2021.

What Does a Modern Board Look Like?

Beginning with the basics, Sullivan talks through her definition of a modern board. For her, the key to a modern board encompasses with five key dimensions, further explored below: mindset, mission, metrics, muscle, and makeup. She emphasizes, “They lean in and lead in key areas. They’re also great business performers in that they exhibit better performance, they’re more diverse, and more likely to stand up to racism in the workplace when compared to other boards.”

From Accenture's "Modern Boards" report

According to Accenture’s Modern Boards report:

  • 70% of the modern boards surveyed have discussed the BLM protests,
  • 59% have strong global representation,
  • 65% are strong in gender diversity,
  • 54% are strong in racial diversity and
  • They possess greater LGBTQ representation when compared to non-modern boards.

“If workforce strategies aren’t on your agenda with full accountability, your board needs to adjust to better manage the pandemic, social unrest, and the safety and wellbeing of your employees.”

Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior Managing Director of Accenture’s Global Talent

How Can Boards be More Responsive to Workforce Issues?

Sage-Gavin believes the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of workforce issues. “Companies and boards should care to do better,” she says, “You should be building trust to make your business better off.” Particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, trust between workforce and leadership is paramount.

This trust can be built through boards and senior leadership teams paying attention to what Sage-Gavin refers to as “the whole person” when it comes to workforce issues and metrics. This refers to the emotional and mental, relational, physical, financial, purpose-related, and employable aspects of a human being. “When we talk about modern boards,” says Sage-Gavin, they’re thinking about the whole person instead of just the employee.”

She goes on to explain, “Modern boards spend more time with workforce leaders like CHROs, but they also hold the whole C-suite accountable. They lean in an engage with the CHRO at least quarterly, looking at metrics and feedback, and thinking about workforce strategy in terms of the safety and wellbeing of their employees.”

Sage-Gavin warns that embracing workforce strategy as an imperative at the board level must refrain from crossing into management’s territory. She maintains, “The idea here is shared, but respectful impact; to hold the C-suite accountable while enabling them with the tools they need to handle these new issues.”

“The pandemic and the current sociopolitical unrest has created, among other things, an increased opportunity for boards and the C-Suite to work together for the greater good.”

Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior Managing Director of Accenture’s Global Talent

What Can Boards Do to Improve Cyber Risk Management?

In 2021 and beyond, cybersecurity will remain a key issue for boards. Recent cyber-attacks by SolarWinds have raised the alarm even further. Clinton comments on the current state of cybersecurity across the U.S.: “We aren’t making enough progress as a nation to improve cybersecurity. Frankly, we haven’t changed our cyber security model in 20 years. It’s just not working, and we have to come up with a new approach.”

Part of the reason for this lack of progress has to do with the way we conceptualize cybersecurity as an issue. According to Clinton, “Our core problem is that we have thought about cybersecurity in a narrow context, purely as a technical operation issue. It’s actually much bigger: it’s an enterprise risk management issue. It’s not just that the systems are inherently vulnerable, it is that they also house incredibly financially important information. Cyber-attacks are cheap, easy, and profitable.”

Cybersecurity then needs to be a board-level imperative. As an enterprise risk management issue, it should be rightfully elevated to the board level so that it can be thought of from a strategic perspective.

“Boards need to look at cyber as a value-creating element of digital transformation. They also need to create a culture of security from the top down.” -Larry Clinton

-Larry Clinton, President of the Internet Security Alliance (ISA)

Also in this episode…

Clinton discusses the ISA’s forthcoming book, Fixing Cybersecurity, in which authors give a detailed analysis of why traditional security models are insufficient for the cyber world. ISA also has podcasts and daily blog posts which further explain the current state of cybersecurity in the U.S. and how we can solve cybersecurity issues.

Resources from this episode:

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