The gender gap has risen to a new consciousness, that women are missing from positions of leadership and that trend needs to stop.
That recognition is coming from a myriad of sources: academic institutions, reports from large management consulting organizations, trade associations, women-led initiatives, renowned journalists and perhaps most importantly, boards and their shareholders acknowledging that a serious gender gap continues to exist.
Diversity is a major and a real issue in 2014. As tweeted by Vivek Wadhwa, co-author of “Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology,” which documents the struggles and triumphs of women: “This is 2014, not 1964. Time to change not make excuses.”
We need to realize that the gap is still significant, that it can’t be ignored and that we need to do something about it, urgently. It is time that we empower, support and recruit women to be in the seats where they belong.
And they do belong at the board table. Not because of their gender, but because of their competences and the breadth of skills, talents and perspectives they bring to the table. There are no excuses, since more women are highly educated, many have incredible track records of accomplishments, many are intuitively innovative and entrepreneurial, cross-culturally savvy, globally oriented, multi-lingual and, above all, are more than ready to lead as a board director, as a top-level executive, as an entrepreneur and make their mark for a better-run business.
Prioritize, Address and Solve the Gap
So now we are cognizant of the issue, and it’s time to prioritize, address and solve the gap.
Sharon Vosmek is the CEO of Astia, a non-profit organization that backs women entrepreneurs. She’s trying to up the commitment to women and recently said, “Stop mentoring…but invest in them.”
Our Fortune 500 boards need to prioritize aligning their board composition strategy to include at least one woman on their board within the next couple of years, not because they have to have a woman, but because they need a level of competence that a woman will be able to provide, while increasing their diversity ratio.
The fact is our boards are not as effective as they could be. It’s time to fully address how to optimize the composition of our boards and, in that process, solve the gap by ensuring they capitalize on all available talents, objectively including women.
A woman’s place in the boardroom is long overdue.
It is different than forcing organizations to get women on their boards, to aim at a number; the intention of looking at the entire pool of available talent and acting on it is what is needed. Women shouldn’t be asked to re-justify themselves time and time again – which many women tell me is the case. There are more women than ever before who should be considered like “Henry,” and interviewed with no pre-conceived labels, judgments and with an authentic desire to recruit “Lucy” based on the value that a woman can bring to the table.
Martha C. White, in a recent article for NBC, wrote, “The presence of a single female board member has a positive impact.”
In my experience working with boards, I have seen over and over the positive impact the presence a single female board member can have on an organization. Therefore, it was extremely gratifying to see this article reinforcing something I’ve observed first-hand. White went on to say: “Corporate boards with greater gender diversity function better, and it takes just one woman to make a difference. While earlier research suggested that it takes a few women in the boardroom to move the needle, a new study shows that even the presence of a single female board member has a positive impact, especially in male-dominated industries.”
This week on November 20, 2014, around the country, chapters of 20/20 Women on Boards will be gathering to encourage the adoption of a 20% goal for corporate boards by 2020. I am not as attached to the number as much as making sure that a high percentage of talented leaders who happen to be women are trusted and brought in to fuel the successes of our organizations and shareholders.
If a board takes the time to thoughtfully review what is needed to maximize the composition of its board and ensure that it looks equally at the resumes it receives from both women and men when trying to fill a seat, the chances are far greater that a woman will differentiate herself and proudly get the seat.
Dan Konigsburg is the Managing Director for the Deloitte Global Center for Corporate Governance, DTTL. He recently tweeted, “The number of women in positions of business seniority is appalling.”
Konigsburg acknowledges that adopting quotas for women on listed company boards is a controversial issue and says that perhaps a better approach would be leadership from both the CEO and the shareholders to get more diversity at the board level.
“Given that shareholders are the owners of the company, one might expect they should have the strongest interest in the benefits of more diverse boards, an interest that should benefit the value of their portfolios,” Konigsburg was quoted as saying when the latest report was released.
I concur with Dan Konigsburg that the attitude by the CEO and the shareholders is key. Their intention needs to be to increase diversity and capitalize on available talent. Their process of nominating a new director to replace an existing director or expand the board, has to drastically change. The consciousness of including women has to exist.
Women need to be given more opportunities to demonstrate how their leadership might be just as strong or even more powerful.
And, just as men have typically enlisted each other, once women are in the seats where they belong, women need to decrease the gap by also enlisting other women.
In a recent blog post from the National Association of Corporate Directors, Phyllis Deiso writes, “There is a growing body of evidence to support the conclusion that companies with more diverse boards produce better results for their shareholders.”
The evidence she refers to includes a recent Credit Suisse report showing that companies with a market cap greater than US $10 billion that have at least one woman on the board of directors outperformed those that had no women at all by 26%
I invite you to visit 20/20 Women on Boards and take the time to join a gathering if there is one in the city where you are. It’s time to reach out and get involved.
Time for the Transformation to Begin
So, let’s begin the transformation so that the future blogs and articles we read are about the changes that our boards are initiating, the gap reducing and the achieved milestones as a result of increased board diversity. Going into 2015, we should only hear about how the transformation has officially begun. Our institutions, organizations and industries around the world will benefit having the right people in the right seats.
Johanne Bouchard is a champion for increasing diversity within our boards worldwide, including international expertise, multi-cultural, emerging industries and board know-how. She is devoted to increase enrolment of women in STEM programs and finding ways to empower them within their careers post-graduation.