It is hard to believe it is already Thanksgiving. And even in the middle of a global pandemic Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and unity. As I think about women representation in corporate Boards, the progress we made over the past 40 years — albeit sluggish — is undeniable. We went from a time in the 80’s when the few women serving on corporate Boards constituted exceptions to the norm to having over 22% of the Fortune 500 Board seats occupied by women. Over the last 12 months, more than 40% of the open Board seats in Russell 3000 companies were filled by women. While that’s real progress, we certainly hope that it won’t take us another 40 years to achieve gender parity in corporate governance. While that’s real progress, we hope that in the near future we won’t need states such as California to mandate public companies to place women in their Boards after the realization that only a quarter of the 445 California-headquartered companies had a woman serving on their Boards.
And while we did make progress on gender diversity, the percentage of women of color on corporate Boards is still dismal, if not embarrassing. Increasing diversity beyond gender in corporate Boards is not just the “right thing to do”. It is good business, effective corporate governance and promotes diversified customer segments representation. Board diversity on many dimensions increases employee engagement and boosts innovation. But diversity is just the first step. Inclusion breeds new ideas and better business decisions. “Diversity in counting heads; Inclusion is making heads count”. But you can’t make diverse heads count, when you don’t have the heads to count to start with.
This Thanksgiving season I am grateful for all we achieved for women in Corporate Governance and I do believe we are just starting to harvest the fruits of our work. Unity, inclusion and collaboration will be key to accelerate future results. If we all do our part individually and together, our joint efforts will be so much bigger than the sum of our personal initiatives.
And whether we are senior executives, entrepreneurs, board directors, influencers or community leaders, here are some of the actions we can take to create positive impact:
Mentor and sponsor a few women who want to serve in Boards not only by giving them good advice but also helping with their bios and resumes, interview prep and networking
Become an advocate for women within and outside the Board room. Intentional and focused advocacy pays off and creates a multiplying effect
Develop your personal roster of women who will likely be great Board Directors. And when we receive that call for a Board opportunity that we either don’t qualify for, are not interest in or can’t pursue because of a conflict of interests for example, let’s make sure to provide at least a couple of names of qualified women for the role
Take the time to teach, speak and share your experiences, knowledge and stories. And while doing that, learn from our fellow Board directors as well
Nothing is more rewarding than expressing gratitude through paying it forward. Nothing is more fulfilling than seeing somebody who you mentored or prepared for an interview being offered a Board appointment and become successful in a new role.
A transformational movement has started. We are all responsible for this generation and the future generations of engaged, confident and powerful women. And we will know we reached our ambitious goals when we no longer have to talk about or fight for them. When gender parity in corporate governance is just the way it is. I am grateful for how far we got and hopeful and inspired by what we will achieve together in the next few years. I wish you and your loved ones a healthy, safe and peaceful Thanksgiving Holiday.
Written By: Ana Dutra, WBC Board Member and Chair of WBC Women in the Boardroom