2015 is unquestionably the time for the momentum to be created by both men and women for women to serve on all four types of boards (advisory, non-profit, private and public) and to be especially active in leadership roles in the Pivotal Leadership TrioTM (Board of Directors, CEO/Executive Director and Executive Team) within our private and public companies, worldwide.
Wikipedia’s List of American women’s firsts is a wonderful resource for seeing in print the breadth of women’s accomplishments. In 1972, Katharine Graham was the first female Fortune 500 CEO, as CEO of the Washington Post Company. However, more than 40 years later, women only hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
As depicted in the visual below, women make up nearly 50% of the labor force of the S&P 500. Moreover, according to EY (as of 14 November 2014): “women-owned businesses continue to be a driving force of the US economy. In total, they currently employ 18 million workers and generate anywhere from $2 trillion to $3 trillion annually. Yet women-owned businesses rarely reach the same level of economic scale as businesses started by men.”
There are only 24 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 and 27 in the Fortune 1000.
Specialty retailers lead the list of companies with women chiefs.
Fortune 1000 companies with female chiefs outperformed the S&P 500 index over their respective tenures.
The most common college major among women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 is engineering.
We have a bigger pipeline of highly experienced and skilled women entrepreneurs and leaders than we have ever had. And, while it appears to be slow, progress is taking place. We must build on this momentum.
In January of this year, Pew Research reported: “According to the majority of Americans, women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men. The same can be said of their ability to dominate the corporate boardroom. And according to a new Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership, most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders.”
I’ve spoken about why boards should seek female directors, now I invite boards to be cognizant of the benefits of having highly qualified women at the board table, and I’m encouraging women to be aware of the value they add and that board service is worth pursuing. To me it is not about resume building, it is about how diversity in its broader spectrum, inclusive of gender, can elevate the governance and success of our organizations, worldwide.
Men: embrace and facilitate change.
Don’t hold women to higher standards for top leadership positions in the boardroom than you would men. Consider women exactly as you would men for board opportunities, and hold all directors to equally high standards.
Often, men have been allowed to slide– getting by without hardcore operational experience, adequate board training or the maturity to be in a director’s seat. These are the type of things that have directly and indirectly forced Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations.
Be fair, and break the “old boys network.” Board composition is at the core of good board governance, and today I invite you to truly assess the current value-add of the directors at your board table. Is it time to refresh the board? If so seek the best talent, and be open-minded about recruiting a highly qualified woman and/or minority. Consider welcoming and mentoring someone new to board service who possesses business acumen, maturity and potential for mentorship.
Be part of the evolutionary process of prioritizing diversity within boards and ensuring that corporations remain accountable to their shareholders– not the government. Don’t be complacent, don’t risk winding up beholden to quotas when there is a real opportunity now to enrich organizational potential with diverse point of views. Diversity of thoughts, knowledge, experience and skill will enable the transformation of our organizations. The pipeline of available female talent is widening, worldwide. Recruit, support, mentor and train!
Don’t associate women with “touchy feely,” because they are feminine, can be compassionate, have empathy, or are typically humanitarian, nurturing and intuitive. These are evidence of wisdom– not weakness!
Don’t resist healthy, constructive confrontations. Indeed, many women in leadership roles can work out compromises and stand up for their organizations’ beliefs. Men and women can be mentees and mentors to each other, and decision making will be enhanced by a varied approach.
Don’t assume that prioritizing diversity will undermine selecting the best candidate. American boards are filled with directors who haven’t traveled outside the U.S., haven’t had international business experience and don’t have cross-functional expertise. It is time to focus on the full breadth of diversity by being inclusive of “know-how” and entrepreneurship across industry sectors from leaders who have “been there, done that” and can step up to today’s challenges.
To women: aim to be, and believe that you will be, a qualified director.
In my career, I’ve served a variety of boards and acted as a strategist and confidential advisor, helping them through periods of transition and evaluation, and offering insight on how to improve communication and dynamics. These different experiences have afforded me the opportunity to observe and experience the effect just one woman has on a board—and therefore on the organization the board serves.
The Atlantic reported in February of 2015, “According to the research, a board needs to have a ‘critical mass’ of female members in order for them to become less likely to commit fraud.”
Are you still wondering if women can be inspired contributors at the board table? Having more women on boards is good for the bottom line and our future competitiveness. The 2020 Women on Board Gender Diversity Index reports that companies with women on their boards are more profitable. To accelerate the representation of women on boards, we need conscious leadership to create a corporate imperative for diversified boards by the Chair, the Nominating and the Governance Chairs, and by all leaders. Men and women both need to commit!
Unless otherwise indicated, graphs originated here at fortune.com.