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.