It is summer, late in the planting season. Yet there is still time for new seeds of thought to grow. Let’s start with this little-known — but critical — fact: fewer women joined S&P 500 boards in 2016 than in 2014 or 2015.
Who knew reality was so different from perception? The push for gender diversity on corporate boards is ostensibly top of mind in many quarters. But without board refreshment, meaningful representation for women will never become a reality. And, the irony is that gender diversity, while a laudable goal on the merits, is also a byproduct of good corporate governance
The Solution That Doesn’t Get Discussed About How to Get More Women On Corporate Boards
Beth Stewart (MBA 1982) and Ilene Lang (MBA 1973)
September 6, 2016
We take as given that modern, well-run boards recognize myriad reasons to include diverse skills, ages, genders, and corporate backgrounds in the boardroom, so this article is not a discussion about why to add female directors. The focus here is on a solution to the slow pace of women joining corporate boards.
In 2016, women occupy only 19.9% of S&P 500 boards, a modest step up from 19.2% in 2015. Despite the seemingly intense, decade-long focus on the topic, corporate boardrooms are stuck. The first challenge to adding women to boards is that there are just not enough open board seats to fill and the second is that of the very few open spots (7% of the S&P 500 or about 380), women get only 31% of those seats.
Recent studies have found that gender diversity in the corporate boardroom can enhance dialogue, curb excessive risk-taking, and boost both performance and share price. And yet, women still hold only about 19 percent of S&P 500 company board seats.Beth Stewart (MBA 1982) has been tackling this issue as the founder and CEO of the executive search firm Trewstar, which places experienced and accomplished women on corporate boards. She offers her advice here.
A small but growing number of U.S. companies have intensified their push to increase the ranks of women on their boards as businesses pay greater attention to gender parity at all levels.
These initiatives are bearing fruit as companies revamp the way they recruit female directors. Some companies have begun to restrict initial searches to women, while others insist on interviewing at least one woman for director spots. Among those pursuing such strategies are Ecolab Inc., Symantec Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Voya Financial Inc., Pinterest Inc. and Nucor Corp.
Buck convention and look for talent in new places.
It’s the final stretch of 2015, which means it’s time to reflect on the last 12 months, make predictions for the next 12, and plan for what companies and individuals will accomplish in the coming year. Like other leaders, I’m sitting down to make my predictions for the next tech industry boon. But it’s not software or the hottest unicorn that I’m predicting will be the next disruptor. No, it’s the concept of inclusion and a more diverse culture that I think will take the tech industry by storm in 2016. It’s not inevitable, but it’s essential for future success.
One company – Twitter TWTR -2.70% – and its returning CEO Jack Dorsey – have been handed a golden opportunity to set the tone for diversity in the organization when replacing three members of its board of directors who are expected to retire early next year.
Women Can Learn as Much From Competent Women as Men
May 7, 2015
When Frontier Communications then-Chief Executive Officer Maggie Wilderotter sought to make a big acquisition last year, she reached out to some of the best dealmakers she knew. That was to be expected—her intended prey would double the size of the telecommunications company. The bigger surprise was that all her major players in the deal wear skirts.
To negotiate the $10.5 billion bid for a chunk of Verizon Communications’ landline assets, Wilderotter tapped JPMorgan Chase investment banker Jennifer Nason, global chairman of its technology, media, and telecommunications practice. . .
Qualified new board members often bring a specific skill set which is needed on the board. Generally this is technology, marketing, occasionally HR, and sometimes the background required to chair the audit committee. Today's new board members are usually younger than 60 years old. So when a board adds a woman, they add new skills, age diversity and gender diversity all at the same time. That's efficient.
In my work, I am in constant conversation with men and women about corporate boards. Often the men are my clients and the women are candidates. But to get to know each of them better, I ask them the same question, "Why do you or did you want to go on a corporate board?" Men offer many reasons, such as they want to contribute their expertise to another organization, but at the core, they confess, the real reason they want to be on boards is because it is a prestigious honor for a man at or near the pinnacle of his career.
When I ask women why they want to be on a corporate board, they offer many reasons. For instance, they want to contribute their expertise to another organization, but at the core, they confess, the real reason they want to be on boards is because it is a prestigious honor for a woman at or near the pinnacle of her career.
As any board insider knows, collegiality works in the context of a hierarchy. If you are the person in charge of adding new board members, remember that qualified women have the same aspirations for their careers as men do. Be kind and share the opportunities.
It's Politically Correct
There is enormous social pressure in all aspects of our society to create a more just and fair world. Adding women to corporate boards has to be one of the easiest places to create parity. Women who are qualified to go on corporate boards are smart, hardworking, trained by men and get along with men. A woman with a 30-year corporate career who has risen to the C-suite has to have all these attributes and be good at her job or she wouldn't be where she is. When you think about it, it's a tautology. These women are the cream of the crop. So follow the Nike slogan and just do it. Your wife, your daughters, your mother, your sisters, the women you went to business school with, the women who work for you, and maybe even some men will be impressed.
It Will Be Good for You
A boardroom with people who bring both new skills and an eagerness to speak up, take a fresh look and ask a different set of questions (all characteristics attributed to females) will give outstanding existing board members the cover they need to break from traditional roles. New ideas combined with experience and wisdom is a powerful combination. Everyone will fly a little higher.
Beth Stewart has served on four corporate boards. She is the founder of Trewstar, a search firm that specializes in the placement of qualified women on corporate boards. She graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Business School.
More Seats at the Table
Constantine von Hoffman
September 6, 2013
Beth Stewart (MBA 1982) aims to get more experienced and accomplished women onto corporate boards.
Re: Sheryl Sandberg (MBA 1995)
Corporate America's glass ceiling doesn't stop at the C-suite. Only 16.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a woman on their board of directors. Beth A. Stewart (MBA 1982) is uniquely qualified to change that. And she is changing it—one board at a time.
Stewart, currently on the boards of Carmax, Inc., and Avatar Holdings, was first named a director when she was 36. In the 20 years since then, she estimates she has participated as a member in more than 200 corporate board meetings. She was almost always the only woman in the room—a fact that hasn't changed much—and often the youngest person as well.
Last year, Ms. Stewart, who runs a search firm that specializes in female directors, helped stoke the debate over board diversity by taking aim at the giant social network Facebook. As the Internet company prepared to go public in a much-hyped debut, she worked behind the scenes on a campaign to publicize the lack of women on Facebook’s board. To bolster her effort, she enlisted a women’s advocacy group, which decided to stage a protest at Facebook’s offices in New York in April.
Call me maybe? Well, the numbers are in, and they didn’t call. Catalyst, the nation’s leading women-in-business advocate organization, released its annual findings today and the results are bleak: women now comprise 16.6% of corporate boards, up from 16.1% in 2011. The percentage of women on boards has hardly changed in a decade. It’s time for a new approach to an old problem.
We need to unify key players, organizations and efforts around a central, action-focused campaign with two simple messages: 1. The problem is demand, not supply. 2. We must increase the rollover rate of board positions.
February was a tough month for women. At a House committee hearing, a panel of five men expounded on religious liberty—in the context of President Obama’s compromise plan on insurance coverage for contraception. In Oklahoma, protesters rallied against Republican Senator Dan Newberry’s bill that would require a woman to hear the fetus’s heartbeat before a doctor could perform an abortion. Facebook announced a $5 billion IPO without a single woman on its board. But, unlike the House committee hearing, or the Oklahoma personhood bill, the public outcry against Facebook’s board was anemic.
A group of young women—two journalists, one paralegal, and a Rhodes Scholar—decided to do something about it. They wanted to use Facebook, not to topple Arab governments, but to create meaningful change in corporate America—change that has not occurred for years, despite the articles, conferences, and commitments to do better.