U.S. women seek opportunities on European boards
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
European companies may be soon be looking for hundreds of female
directors to fill quotas, prompting American executives to send their resumes
across the Atlantic, according to one report.
At least 10 European countries, including Norway, France and
Spain, have approved quotas or corporate-governance codes for women representation
on boards, or are considering them. Meeting that demand may require more than
1,000 new female directors in the next three to five years, based on a report
on 334 companies in 17 countries by executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds
Associates, according to a recent Bloomberg report.
Although they may face language barriers and resistance to
outsiders, U.S. women executives are eager to take their experience overseas,
Bloomberg reported. Doreen Wright, who retired as Campbell Soup Co. chief information
officer in 2008, for example, is part of a growing number of Baby Boomers
transitioning from full-time executives to professional directors.
"I feel like what is happening in Europe is important, and I want
to be part of it,” Wright told Bloomberg. Wright, 54, had a 29-year corporate
career that started at Merrill Lynch and included Bankers Trust Co., American
Express Co., Prudential Insurance and Nabisco. A director for U.S. companies
Crocs Inc. and Dean Foods Co., Wright studied in Munich and some of her roles
included European and South American operations.
The Russell Reynolds report for the European Professional Women's
Network found that among 4,875 directors at 334 companies in Europe, 12
percent, or 571, were women. Getting to 40 percent would mean more than 1,300
additional female directors.
"Unless you have some of the same women serving on many, many
boards, the pool of candidates [from existing European executives] may not be
as robust as you need it to hit those numbers,” Julie Daum, co-leader of
corporate recruiter Spencer Stuart's North American board, told Bloomberg.
Some European boards conduct meetings in English. Others require
native speakers, which can determine eligibility, noted Wendy Lane, a former
Tyco International Ltd. director and current board member for two companies
based in Europe, in addition to Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings in the
Also, the eight-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean requires
women with flexible schedules, she told Bloomberg.
Because there is a shortage of European women executives in their
50s, Lane said that the age group is the "sweet spot” for directors,
particularly for women with operating experience. "I'm generally not for
putting diversity as a number one criteria, but on the other hand it does not
seem to be happening naturally, so maybe it has to be forced with a timeline,
which I think is very unfortunate,” Lane said.