My proposal is simple. Grow your own.
Think of the boardroom as a small elevator that travels slowly and opens on each floor. It takes forever to get a group to the right place. Yet, if we don’t find a way to speed up the process, gender bias in the boardroom will be with us for a long time. The way to sort out this impossible conundrum is to find an innovative solution.
How can you increase the number of women, train them as directors, and have a ready pool of qualified candidates? Here is how the math works: there are roughly 5,000 public companies and they convene an average of 10 board directors. It amounts to 50,000 directors in America, and parity means we need to recruit 25,000 women into the boardroom.
I propose we create a network across the globe and gather them together as part of a Board Corps that advises the board of directors until the time is right for them to move onto the board.
“Directors have a fiduciary duty to their companies, but collectively, they have a duty to society. Gender fairness in the boardroom is on both of those ‘to do’ lists.”
Here are 5 steps
“I believe in the notion that great companies will stand among humankind’s noblest inventions.” — Peter Drucker
1. The goal is to convene a globally diverse group that can be the eyes and ears for the board of directors across multiple areas of expertise.
2. Canvass the world for the brightest up-and-comers across all gender, ethnic groups and geographies. The goal is to convene no fewer than 10.
3. Draw from four cohorts: 1) experts from business at a senior level; 2) globally connected advisors from key regions; 3) social and community leaders; 4) professionals from the arts, academia, medicine, legal and finance.
4. Meet annually, once at a board meeting and once in the home region or market.
5. Serve for periods of 2–3 years with nonconsecutive terms (so that termination from the board is not seen as signaling).
Here are 5 traditions.
1. Identify disruptive technologies and social trends in their markets.
2. Represent global markets. Because of travel logistics, having far-flung geographies serving on boards has been a challenge. Now that’s fixed.
3. After several years, it will be clear which individuals have board potential, and preparations can be made to recruit them.
4. Not all cohort members will be directors, but the experience will make them better business people — a win for society and will help develop long-term networks and relationships for the company.
5. It will have the added benefit of making thousands of global women and minorities better versed in business.
Directors have a fiduciary duty to their companies, but collectively, they have a duty to society. Gender fairness in the boardroom is on both of those ‘to do’ lists.
Note: After Sarbanes- Oxley, compensating people for advising the company makes them ineligible to serve as independent directors (for a period of three years). Once the cohorts are ready to become directors, companies can create a second tier of non-voting board members or appoint them as non-independent directors. (Note: Google’s Eric Schmidt is a non-independent director).