Looking for ways to drive your organization’s DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) objectives forward? Interested in fostering diversity of thought between your executive team and employees? Seeking additional ways to integrate younger generations into your workforce?

If you answered yes to any of the above, consider implementing a shadow board.

What exactly is a shadow board?

A shadow board is defined as a “group of young, non-executive employees tapped to work with the executive board on strategic initiatives and bring diversity of thought”. Also known as “mirror boards”, these groups consist of different levels of age, gender, race, etc., regardless of position or seniority in the company.

What are the benefits of a shadow board?
The following are benefits of shadow boards:

• Enables organizations to pilot initiatives important to younger employees and customers. Shadow boards contribute feedback, opinions, and ideas about a company’s product, brand, marketing, or online presence from perspectives other than senior leadership.

• Bridges gaps between workers of different generations, providing for richer dialogue.

• Enables diverse succession planning. Shadow boards can showcase employees not traditionally identified in succession planning processes.

• Offers additional upward and downward mentoring opportunities between different levels of employees and leaders.

•  Integrates younger employees into the organization and contributes to talent retention goals.

• Drives cultural change within an organization. Actively engaging employees most affected by the proposed change can increase buy-in and chances of success.

How do shadow boards differ from employee resource groups (ERGs)?
ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups whose purpose is to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned to the organizations they serve. ERG participants share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or interest. The groups exist to provide support, aid in personal or career development, and create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to the table. Allies may be invited to join the ERG, but ERGs direct engagement with senior leadership is limited.

How should a shadow board be implemented?
Composition: Shadow board members should represent a balance of gender, multi generations (Gen X and Gen Y), and various backgrounds of the organization’s employees. Ideally, these boards should contain the same number of members as the executive board. Shadow boards should not “mirror” the executive team’s gender, age, ethnicity or race, and other diversity characteristics.

Selection: Although shadow boards can be created from high potential employee groups, it is more effective to select candidates through an application process open to everyone. This creates a more diverse applicant pool and identifies talent missed in succession planning processes. It also reinforces an organization’s DEI values of inclusion and belonging.

Timeline: Technically, there is no prescribed timeline for shadow board existence. Some companies set shadow board term limits or while others align the shadow board’s purpose to a specific initiative. Either way, the shadow board must have enough time to participate in meaningful ways and provide recommendations. Be sure to decide upfront how members rotate on and off the board.

Frequency of engagement: There is no right or wrong answer!  Align the meeting cadence to the objectives of the shadow board rather than a predetermined date. When bringing the two boards together for the first time, use a facilitator to create safe spaces for interaction and discussion and manage the agenda. This will help the two groups efficiently “form, storm, and norm”.

Keys to success when creating a shadow board?

• The success of a shadow board is tied to executive leadership support as their words and actions must support the shadow board’s mission and purpose. Create a business case that executive leadership can endorse.

• Executive boards should actively listen to different points of view and review shadow board inputs. Nothing can be more frustrating than initiating a shadow board, and disregarding its input.

• Be intentional about the creation of the shadow board structure at the outset. Define key components of the shadow board’s recruitment, selection, term limits, and time commitment.

• Implement an onboarding program for shadow and executive board members that details roles and responsibilities and ways of working together.

• Create a communication plan that communicates transparently about the creation of the shadow board, expected benefits, and pertinent outcomes.

• Finally, create a process to evaluate the shadow board’s structure and effectiveness. This ensures the shadow board remains relevant and consistently brings bring new ideas and energy into the group.

Creating and managing shadow boards takes time, careful planning, and follow-through. The benefits can yield big dividends at both the enterprise and individual level.


Holly Young is a Partner at PeopleResults working with clients on HR transformation and organizational change initiatives. You can reach her at hyoung@people-results.com or on LinkedIn.