Five steps for seating women at the boardroom table
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
By Susan Bulkeley Butler
Women represent about half of our country’s
population and half of our workforce. But when it comes to the corporate
boardroom, we fill just 14 percent of board seats.
How can companies expect to produce the
products and services they need to appeal to half of the population (and
remember, women do most of the buying in United States households) when only 14
percent of their company directors are women?
Smart companies know they need to change.
After spending much of my life in corporate
America, during which time I was often the only woman in the room, I’ve seen
some of the hurdles that women ― and companies ― face in bringing equality to
the boardroom. Here are five steps every smart company can take to help
overcome those hurdles:
1. Fill the pipeline. To have qualified
women board candidates, companies need to help women become qualified
candidates. They can do that by developing more women in the first place and
putting them in line management and executive positions. According to McKinsey & Co., 62 percent
of senior women in the largest U.S. corporations are in staff jobs that rarely lead to CEO roles.
That needs to change.
2. Create sponsorship programs. Men have
benefited from corporate sponsorship and development programs for decades.
That’s part of the reason men outnumber women in the boardroom today. Because
the number of women at the top of the corporate ladder is so small, and the
need for equality so great, forward-thinking companies are establishing
sponsorship programs specifically for women. Mentoring programs can help, but
typically women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Smart companies like
Boston Consulting Group have dedicated women’s initiatives that are designed to
increase women’s roles in senior leadership. As a result, Boston Consulting and
others with similar initiatives are consistently ranked among the best
companies to work for and the best companies for working mothers.
3. Be family friendly. Women shouldn’t be
forced to quit work because their work schedule isn’t flexible enough to
accommodate their family. Companies need to retain women workers if they want
to groom more women for the executive suite and boardroom. Worker retention is
always important, but retaining working mothers is extremely critical if an
organization really wants to get more women in their boardrooms.
A young woman once came to me to ask if she
could work four-day weeks so that she could have Fridays to handle family
duties. We worked it out. If she had her work completed and could be involved
for meetings that might be scheduled, we could make it happen. Today, companies
can create family-friendly cultures through flextime opportunities, parental
leave and job-sharing programs.
4. Women, help women. One of the most
disheartening things I’ve seen is women reaching the executive suite, but not
helping other women succeed because they like being special or they feel
challenged or threatened that they’ll lose their position to another woman.
Instead, we should be opening the doors ― or rather, dropping the corporate
ladders ― to bring other women up behind us, so that we have an opportunity to
take on more responsibilities ourselves. We’re all in this together! By having
so few women at the top, we are leading our organizations without involvement
by some of the most talented people: women
5. Consider term limits. There’s a reason
the Good Old Boy network continues to exist: The Good Old Boys keep getting
older, but they don’t leave. Corporate boards often suffer from stagnancy
because they don’t have enough turnover ― and stagnancy can hurt a company and
its future. Limiting director terms by years on the board or by age is a way to
overcome boardroom stagnancy and make
more room for women.
Equality and diversity are important for so
many reasons. In the corporate world, it’s especially important. As study after
study has shown us, companies with women on their boards and in their executive
suites have better rates of return than those without.
A survey by Credit Suisse Research
Institute, for example, found large companies with at least one woman on the
board performed 26 percent better than those without.
If companies care about improving profits
and return to shareholders, they ought to care about putting more women on
corporate boards. As if they needed any more reasons.
Susan Bulkeley Butler is founder and CEO of
the SBB Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and author of the book Become the CEO of You Inc.
Views expressed in signed blogs and user
comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions
of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.
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