More Women on Boards: How Do We Get There?

Obectivity, strategy, and balance are reasons to have women on boards. Now comes the hard part.

I have written in the past about some of the advantages of having women on boards, including research correlating women on boards with better bottom lines. I recently came across a fantastic piece published by the IFC, Women on Boards: A Conversation with (Male) Directors, which does a wonderful job of explaining more precisely how women add value to boards. Here are a few quotes from the male directors that contributed their thoughts to the publication.

  • “When women are at the table, there is less joking around and more objective discussion. I’ve also found that women tend to be more sensible and more thoughtful. I think they care much more about how decisions made in the boardroom will impact people.”
  • “Diversity brings more energy to the boardroom.”
  • “Women provide good balance. The dynamics change because women are more willing to give the other side a chance than men.”
  • “Women are more strategy oriented. They tend to look at where the company is heading, whether things are on the right track, and why the company might be diverging from its strategic goals.”
  • “Women are more likely to be conservative and more attuned to good risk management. I don’t think they are more risk adverse but they have more of a long-term and sustainable approach to issues and less short-termism.”

So, how do we get more women on boards? All hands on deck.

Quotas: Ultimately, disadvantaged groups benefit from quotas until societal and cultural values progress further. As the male directors in the IFC pub state, “Women have societal constraints” and “Quotas would definitely quicken the pace to achieve the outcomes we want.” Investors don’t need to wait for regulation imposed quotas. The IFC, for example, has committed to “fill at least 30 percent of IFC-nominated director positions with women.”

Choose wisely: Quotas only work if boards take them seriously and do the work to find qualified and relevant women – as opposed to asking an actress and a retired admiral like Lehman Brothers did.

Level playing field: Many boards meet at least quarterly, which involves a lot of travel for non-local directors. Required travel kills many women professionally. I feel time away from my one year old son like a stake to my heart and would likely turn down a board request that required quarterly trips away from my family. Boards need to use technology to level the playing field for women and should consider alternating in-person and virtual meetings. However, this only works if all the board members meet virtually as opposed to just having some directors (likely women) remotely conference – which might lead to missing out on side meetings. A more level playing field goes beyond just travel accommodations. If hegemonic gender dynamics are in effect and women aren’t able to get a word in edge-wise or are being interrupted or discounted, boards need to fundamentally adjust the way they operate and pass around the “talking stick.”

Advocate from within: Since men make up the majority of boards, it is up to them to advocate from within by understanding the value of women on boards, advocating for their participation, making structural adjustments to level the playing field, and recruiting wisely.

Get qualified: Women need to do their part to become qualified as board members. Women, participate in mentoring and networking opportunities, take advantage of training and leadership programs, and don’t shy away from leadership opportunities. If you join a board, be prepared, speak up, and know your strengths.

What am I going to do? Practice what I preach. Get experience: I am going to join the fall session of a Board Fellows Program run by Net Impact Boston that matches volunteers with non-profit boards. Ask more women: we have a myriad of advisory boards, councils, steering committees, and other bodies that guide our work. I vow to take stock of each of these and see if more qualified and appropriate women can be recruited to join them.

Please join me in making a comment with what you plan to do to help get more women on boards.

As Peter Dey, Chairman of Paradigm Capital Inc. said, “Boards and headhunters are stuck in their ways and as a result ignore a huge talent pool that could enhance corporate governance, which in turn should translate into a better bottom line.”

Have you read?

Why Your Next Board Member Should be a Women

How Does Your Board Compare? Findings from the McKinsey Global Survey

Why the Gender Dummy Doesn’t Speak: Explaining the Gender Gap in Financial Inclusion

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