According to the United States Census, these are the changes (or not) in the percentage of women in various occupations since 1970 in this country:
- Accounting: from 24.6% to 60%
- Physicians/surgeons: from 9.7% to 32.4%
- Police officers: from 3.7% to 14.8%
- Computer programmers: from 24.2% to 24.4%
But some conversations are changing. In a refreshingly upbeat and dare I say, action-oriented discussion, I listened to three smart people who tackled the boardroom “problem” on a recent broadcast of SAP’s Game-Changing Women Radio – “Getting On Board with Women in the Boardroom.”
Host Bonnie D. Graham opened the discussion noting that in the United States, only one in six boardroom seats are filled by women. Changing this reality goes to the heart of why boardrooms exist and what everyone, (not just women), can do to populate boardrooms, making them better aligned to global business. Here are five ways these experts think we could unlock the boardroom doors to women.
1. Become recognized experts
Women can and should pursue potential boardroom opportunities in non-profits and venture and private equity companies that could benefit from their passion and special skills. The objective is to be recognized for your expertise, and that takes prep work.
“How to prepare yourself is to be the best that you could be in your chosen field to excel, to have points of view, to be established, to be published, to be recognized in your field—and then you have some of the basic background to get noticed,” said Dr. Dana Ardi, founder of Corporate Anthropology Advisors.
2. Collaborate with the Boardroom
Some companies are inviting high-potential employees into the boardroom as an internal advisory team.
“You get some of the most senior men and women in your organization rubbing shoulders with the board, understanding board dynamics, accepting some of the challenges of the research that the board needs to undertake,” said Ardi. “It gives people those preparatory experiences that will enable them, future leaders of the company, to sit on boards and to be their representative on other boards of maybe customers, and to be recommended for boards because they’ve had some of that critical experience of understanding.”
3. Build your network
Those in boardrooms already are looking for people with influence across the company’s constituencies.
“You’re in that board seat not just because of your expertise, but about where your network is – the new introductions you can make on behalf of the board, on behalf of the C-suite team,” said Dr. Patti Fletcher, Head of Content Marketing at IHS and co-founder and CEO of the PSD Network.
4. Forget Prestige
Board membership today is not as much about prestige as it is about making a tangible contribution.
“Stakeholders watch their boards very carefully now. It is an honor to be selected, but it’s a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of honor. There are real expectations of how you perform, vote and committees you select,” said Ardi.
5. Change boardroom sourcing processes
Educated boards can work with trained professionals to find and develop a balanced slate of candidates.
“There are plenty of high-potential people and they come in all sizes, shapes, races, genders, ages—and I think it’s…not just being expedient but really looking at what’s in the best interest [of the company],” said Ardi.
To end on a bright note, all of the panelists agreed that studies show boardroom diversity is brilliant business. What’s more, Fletcher said millennial men, who have the ear of the C-suite, are pushing for something different that could open more access to women. “Millennial men see themselves as partnering with a company, giving them some technical expertise or leadership…but they don’t want to go the route that others have gone…years before them.” Getting both men and women to this new place remains the challenge. This is truly a leadership moment.
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