Top CHROs Discuss Their Value in the Boardroom – And What May Be Limiting Their Membership Consideration


By: Brad Frank, Partner, Philadelphia and Silicon Valley Offices

To be successful, board members must individually add value, while also complementing each other to create a tapestry of skills and expertise. Increasingly, these individuals represent a broader spectrum of voices than the past. The value of such diversity – in age, race, gender, function, etc. – has been well documented. However, while diversity among functional areas across the C-suite is increasing, there is one function that is noticeably lacking in representation on boards: the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).

A strategic CHRO, with an equal voice in the C-suite, can provide undeniable leadership that has the potential to greatly impact a company’s performance. Best-in-class HR leaders:

  • Understand the strategic nature of business
  • Can align people, culture, compliance, structure, and skills to enable strategy
  • Foster diverse and inclusive workplaces
  • Provide data-driven insight into leadership, teams, and employees
  • Are experts in organizational design, talent, and culture
  • Have acute insight into compensation and career advancement within an organization
  • Can proactively drive conversations around succession planning
  • Possess strong EQ skills to help maximize the success of employees across an organization or within a leadership team
  • Are dedicated to proactively understanding the workforce of the future, helping to build talent and skills to meet demand, as well as fulfill the career aspirations of dedicated employees

I recently interviewed a group of CHROs to get their perspective on the topic, including how they currently interact with their Board of Directors and why they believe more CHROs aren’t considered for openings. In the first of a series of blog posts, I’m excited to share some of their insights to help drive board membership in a new, and worthwhile, direction. Thanks to the following CHROs who joined me:

What value do you think a CHRO specifically could bring to the boardroom?

“Because a CHRO is responsible for ensuring alignment between leadership expectations and company culture with overall vision and mission, they are uniquely positioned to identify inconsistencies and areas of risk in the boardroom.”
– Tracy Edkins, Splunk

“I consider it my responsibility to ensure that the board is discussing matters of culture and diversity. My colleagues bring a wealth of knowledge in other important areas, but I am dedicated to soliciting discussion and execution on cultural aspects. That’s a differentiator that’s so important given the world in which we’re currently operating.”
– Marty Reaume, Formerly of Twilio

“The board has to minimize a company’s risk and manage its reputation. Shaping a culture that’s conducive to driving performance and setting the right behavioral tone, wherein inappropriate behavior isn’t allowed to fester, requires a holistic view. The CHRO has a very broad, objective view of the company – an outside-in perspective – that can enable leadership to identify impactful cultural moments and help them move forward.”
– Kristin Yetto, eBay

“Maybe more than ever before, what’s happening in a company as it relates to people can have a significant impact on the internal and external health of the organization. We’re seeing that in the news every single day. The job of a CHRO is to know what’s happening with people at all levels of an organization, and the insight they can share is something that no one else is as equipped to provide.”
– Christy Lake, Box

“Generally, we’re experiencing an elevated concentration on human capital management. There’s an increased focus on serving the customer and serving employees, and CHROs live in that space. They’re working to keep employees connected and create a culture where people want to stay and build a career path.”
– Marty Reaume, Formerly of Twilio

What aspects of the CHRO’s daily role are most applicable to the board setting?

“A CHRO can bring insight to the board, based on their experiences, that will be highly useful in conversations related to talent and succession. They are actively involved in succession planning for key leaders, knowing the capabilities required for a role and assessing potential talent. Second to that, they are acutely aware of compensation and instilling practices that reward and motivate employees and attract top talent.”
– Kristin Yetto, eBay

“A CHRO focuses on people every day. This focus naturally extends to the board level, where there are frequent conversations around talent – finding it, securing it, and determining compensation. A CHRO could help to strategize succession planning, identify right-fit candidates, and consider diversity with a level of experience that would enable success.”
– Marty Reaume, Formerly of Twilio

“It’s the CHRO’s job to know what’s happening at all levels of an organization, especially when it comes to hiring, turnover, engagement, culture issues, etc. The ability to intersect that with business strategy and performance is a powerful combination.”
– Christy Lake, Box

“The domain of the CHRO is the health of the organization and its people. That entails how well the company listens to its employees, the policies in place, the perception of the culture, and mitigating risk. Doing these things well directly impacts company and customer success and is directly relevant to the conversations the board should be having.”
– Tracy Edkins, Splunk

Is having a CHRO on the board equally important for pre-IPO versus public companies?

“At the end of the day, a board needs diversity, bringing different mindsets to the table. The stage of the company is irrelevant. What’s more important is bringing on a strategic CHRO who has a broad view of the business. A generalist is not going to be able to participate in the way that the board position would require.”
– Kristin Yetto, eBay

“There is almost much more of an opportunity to be impactful for a pre-IPO CHRO on the board, who can help address people challenges that an early-stage CEO may simply not understand. The CEO needs a people partner who can help them think through issues related to human capital, and there is no one more equipped for that than a CHRO.”
– Marty Reaume, Formerly of Twilio

“They are valuable in both spaces; however, a pre-IPO CEO is often in survival mode, so they’re not facing some of the bigger company issues that a CHRO supports. That said, it is important to establish a culture as early on as possible and to grow and scale over time, and those are issues where the voice of CHRO is invaluable in both early-stage and post-IPO environments.”
– Tracy Edkins, Splunk

“It’s equally important, but the role of the CHRO is different in each stage. Pre-IPO, a CHRO can help shape how the company scales and provide thoughtful insight into people-related systems, investments, culture, values, etc. Post-IPO, the CHRO can weigh in on the same topics, but it’s really more of a risk management role than it is building a foundation.”
– Christy Lake, Box

Why aren’t more CHROs on boards currently?

“I think the chairman of that board has to have an appetite for it, and that may depend on their previous experience in partnering with CHROs. They may need to see the value of the role before they can lean into it.”
– Kristin Yetto, eBay

“Boards really have an opportunity to look around and fill missing gaps. If you believe that the role of the board is to play a very important governance function for the overall health and trajectory of the company, the board should have an array of perspectives. Ultimately, the CEO needs to say, ‘This is what I want.’ – they’re driving the searches.”
– Christy Lake, Box

“I think the issues that are the domain of the CHRO have historically been underrepresented at the board level. These issues, which include diversity, inclusion, retention, productivity, and alignment of culture and strategy, have only recently become focus areas for boards. This trend, combined with active efforts to increase gender diversity on boards, should change this current landscape.”
– Tracy Edkins, Splunk

“The CHRO needs to very clearly be a business operator who is adept at partnering with the CEO. Beyond that, the board needs to be open to the importance of thinking about human capital, which the CHRO excels at. And, if we’re being honest, a lot of companies seem open to women taking a spot on the board if they have experience, but that makes it difficult to land that first position.”
– Marty Reaume, Formerly of Twilio

From these conversations, it’s clear that a CHRO understands company culture and the effect it can have on employees and their ability to be as productive and successful as possible and is aware of how board-level decisions can have widespread impacts at all levels. Beyond their day-to-day role, they represent the very people that make a company work. Who better than the CHRO to bring this perspective to the boardroom?

For more on this topic, I invite you to read a recent article from Howard Fischer, Founder and CEO of Howard Fischer Associates, explaining why CHROs are a value-add for boards and touching on some of the key characteristics they possess that directly apply in the boardroom.

We’ll continue to explore this topic over the coming months. If you have any thoughts on the topic, I’d love to hear them. Reach out to me at or 215-568-8363.