Large companies have continued to improve the gender diversity of their board composition, and in 2017, nearly 20% of all board seats at Fortune 1000 companies were held by women. Smaller companies and nonprofits, however, are having less success in finding women to serve as board members; with CEOs or Nominating Committee Chairs often contending they don’t know any women who are qualified.
Alternatively, in selecting a woman for their board – either for appearances, or based on a genuine belief that a woman’s perspective will add value – many companies make the following 3 mistakes:
- They pick women who are well-known to them. Their candidate might be a spouse of the CEO’s best friend, or a generalist consultant, with very little rigor applied to determining if the female candidate has any specific industry experience or relevant thought leadership to assist the company in evaluating growth opportunities and the associated risks.
- They select women who currently serve, or have served, on other boards, primarily because they represent a “safe choice.” This tactic also spares the company the time and effort that’s required to identify and recruit a female board member who has well-suited skills and credentials.
- They select women who appear to have passive personalities, often with experience in support functions such as human resources, who are unlikely to express informed or persuasive views on the company’s critical operational issues.
Regardless of whatever mistakes are made in their board recruitment process, too few companies possess a clear understanding of the tangible benefits of having female board members. Apart from the fact that women possess innate qualities – including greater sensitivity to risk, which can be of great value in a testosterone-driven board room – there are marketplace realities that companies can’t ignore. Notably, women represent nearly 50% of the total domestic workforce, holding half of all management positions. Women also control almost 80% of consumer spending, and run 10 million privately owned firms.
Companies that are serious about having female directors for the right reasons, and that are willing to make the effort to recruit a woman who will bring informed opinions to the boardroom (and express them), can find qualified candidates in a number of ways.
Here’s a short list of tactics suggested by 2020 Women on Boards, an organization established in 2010 to increase gender diversity in the boardroom:
- Engage an executive search firm or recruiter that specializes in board searches.
- Find local women’s business organizations that offer free board search services.
- Research membership rosters of relevant professional trade associations.
- Contact your local university’s women’s leadership program.
- Identify businesswomen who are quoted in respected business media.
Contrary to the most common excuse regarding board diversity, there’s no shortage of women with the industry knowledge, operational experience and emotional intelligence necessary to succeed as directors. To tap into this vast resource, companies must first be willing to look beyond traditional corporate C-level titles in candidates, and expand their search to include qualified women in the private, public or academic sectors who have earned credibility and respect in their fields and who can serve as long-term corporate assets.