The issue around diversity in boardrooms belies the real issue: what is the role of non-executives in the 21st century?

Clearly it is important that the talent pool is widened so boards can attract the best talent. Part of this, without doubt, involves getting the right mix of talent on a board, including gender, regional focus and skills.

Pressure groups like the 10% and 30% clubs are important to ensure the right focus is placed on nomination committees. The days of the gentleman club are gone.

However, the criticism and focus on diversity comes from the underlying view that non-executives are not performing adequately - irrespective of diversity.

In particular, the fact that non-executives are not challenging enough on remuneration, and failure to deliver a strategy has caused activist investors to challenge many boards in recent times. 

There is something wrong when it is activists that force change in strategy, rather than the independent directors. This makes investor groups believe independent directors are too scared to challenge things, for fear of stepping over the line between supervision and management. 

The fact that the withholding of bonuses at Rolls Royce for compliance failures received publicity shows this is unusual rather than the norm. 

A good group of non-executives include industry expertise, finance, risk and people skills, but an effective a board must be able to show it is making tough decisions and not simply patting the executives on the back in the cocktail lounge.

Is it time to revisit the role and responsibilities of independent directors in the 21st century.