Yes, she is only 31 and no, she is not a sitting CEO. She is a graduate student at Oxford University who has a diverse professional background. She has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations to get experience in corporate governance and boardroom dynamics.
We applaud IAC/InterActive Corp. for having the vision to appoint a board member who, by virtue of her gender and age, knows it business: interactive internet represented by such sites as CollegeHumor, Shoebuy.com and City Search – the sweet spot for Chelsea’s generation. In addition to choosing her for her competency, Chelsea will be the first woman to join the IAC board.
Of course, the Wall Street Journal article would not have been complete without referencing Chelsea’s connections, and that these connections, not the least of which are her famous parents, “may” have helped her land this plum job. Nonetheless, her appointment is what keeps us pushing forward to celebrate the day when a woman is recognized for the value and balance she brings to a male-dominated boardroom.
I had the honor of representing ION at the Second Annual SAIS Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom this month. Two highlights, among many, that stood out for me were:
1. There are some male CEOs who not only get that gender diversity is important, they also know what needs to happen. For example, Coca-Cola Enterprises Chairman and CEO said, “It’s simple. It’s all about leadership. We don’t need more statistics or more research studies. Leaders need to get behind this issue the way they got behind the sustainability movement and then we will see meaningful change.” And Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, said, “We have to have courageous conversations and address the brutal facts and the brutal feelings. The ‘soft stuff’ IS the hard stuff.” Now those may not be exact quotes, but they’re pretty close. Four words Doug repeated more than once were: “We can do better!”
2. We were advised to move away from the conversation that an improvement in financial performance can sometimes, but not always, be correlated with gender diversity. Instead, we should talk about the precursors to good results that happen when more women are leading: better engaged employees, more women in top management and operating roles, improved innovation and better conflict resolution.
On a gray, rainy day in DC with threats of flash floods and terror attacks, the SAIS conference gave us reason to pause, celebrate. . . and inspired us to get back to the task at hand.
1. Give up being an expert.
Whether you are an expert in finance, technology, risk management or anything else – do not spend your energy establishing your technical credentials. Be matter of fact about your background then move on!
2. Describe what value you add, not how you add it.
Talk about what outcomes and results you have contributed to. Results are impressive – methodology isn’t. Avoid the trap of identifying yourself as a “devils advocate” – everyone on a board should be capable of taking an opposing view when necessary, boards aren’t looking people who are stuck in this or any role.
3. Craft a bio that contains stunning outcomes and describes breadth.
Even very smart people struggle with writing a compelling, one page biography. Get help if you need it but don’t spend hours editing your own and do not hire someone to help you because they are a good writer. This is a tool to market yourself – you need help from someone who writes well and who can clearly describe your incredible value. This is not the time to be coy – boldly declare your value!
4. Become a student of governance in formal and informal ways.
Director colleges are everywhere these days. Some are good, some aren’t. Find one with a reasonable reputation and go. Then, if you are not already on a not-for-profit board, get on one so that you can exercise your knowledge and influencing skills with your colleagues.
5. Don’t listen to unsolicited feedback.
Most of us have friends, colleagues and seatmates on airplanes who will give us an opinion on virtually anything – often unsolicited. Avoid listening to unsolicited feedback – it’s usually given for the benefit of the sender. Do not ask people who are not successful themselves for advice about how to succeed in achieving this goal – or any other for that matter.
6. Build relationships.
Boards are groups of human beings working to achieve a common goal. They form relationships with one another. Who wants to have a member or several who are difficult? As one director said to me – “no turkeys allowed.” Blunt for sure.
Through your involvement in governance groups – NACD for example, build relationships over time. Give of yourself and allow others to get to know you. Let your value shine!
I recently had the opportunity to author a guest blog post for ION Member Inforum. In “A Strategy for Board Success,” I explain the benefits of a balanced board and include info about a new database designed to promote the formation of more diverse boards.
Read the full blog here.
Here’s a thought: what would the business world look like if run entirely by women? After all, women are thought to be more collaborative and sensitive to certain market issues. It would be a positive change, right?
Wrong. Critics of gender diversity efforts often cite overt feminism and lack of evidence when arguing against electing more women to boards. But what they fail to highlight is the fact that gender diversity advocates like ION acknowledge that a corporation needs businessmen just as much as it needs businesswomen.
Hindered by a longstanding business tradition and a general lack of awareness, companies continue to elect more men to their boards – often stating that the pool of qualified women is too shallow. Yet women make up approximately half of the work force and the majority of the consumer
So why are women still so poorly represented in the corporate boardroom?
There is an abundance of women who are ready, willing and able to sit at the table. And qualified women at that. Contrary to a widely held belief, a board member does not have to be a sitting or retired CEO. Although an excellent addition to a board, a chief executive officer can only contribute to the scope in which he or she is an expert. Thus it is beneficial to the corporation when the board members have diverse expertise, even if this means they have a different title.
While this approach is far from mainstream, it’s important to remember that a good board is balanced board – with experts in marketing, human resources, capital markets, corporate governance, and community affairs, along with industry and financial experts. Coincidentally – or not – women are dominant in many of these industries. In fact, no one has ever said that credentials, company match and board chemistry do not count.
All we are asking for is the same chance provided to our male colleagues.
3D helps give us that by putting nominations in the hands of shareowners. Paired with ION’s Investor Toolkit, the database makes gender diverse boards more of a possibility than ever.
We urge corporations to view the issue of women on boards as a strategic move – an opportunity to develop a more effective, well-rounded business model. In fact, there is growing evidence that points to a stronger financial performance for companies with gender-diverse boards, as well as a better financial outlook for corporations with diversity at the senior management level.
It no longer makes sense to deny capable, professional women the right to serve on a board. But it does make sense to speak about the need for women directors. It makes sense for investors to uphold gender diversity standards. And it makes even more sense to put straightforward tools like 3D in the hands of shareowners and board recruiters.
As we move into the next stage for boardroom optimization, ION will continue to support important initiatives like 3D, and help corporations evolve beyond token representation to a critical mass of women directors.
Yesterday, ION and PAX World kicked off their co-sponsored “Gender Diversity as an Investment Concept” series of events. The first event in Florida, hosted by ION’s member organization Women Executive Leadership, drew a record turnout of senior executive women in the Tampa area. Raymond James Associates (a subsidiary of Raymond James Financial) President Dennis W. Zank served on the panel with me, along with Kathleen McQuiggan, representing PAX World. Dennis is a true “Guy Who Gets It.” He understands that in order to increase the number of women in the executive suite, it must make clear business sense. Not only is he a strong believer in gender diversity, he has also put the idea to action in Raymond James. Dennis supports female financial representatives and provides them with the tools and support they need to best serve their clients and make progress in their own professional endeavors. With concentrated company diversity initiatives, women’s support groups, events and two female directors, Raymond James is well on its way to reaching a critical mass of women. For corporations that wish to follow suit, there is an abundance of qualified women who are ready, willing and able to serve in your executive ranks and in the boardroom. I encourage you to use the Raymond James model as an example, reference our Take Action page and contact me to find out more about how you can connect with women leaders in your area.
A recent Forbes blog post divulged some “clandestine snippets” about board diversity that most executive women already know: the “secret” that we hold only 15.7 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500; the “secret” that we are often more inclusive, collaborative and process-oriented than men. Forbes notes, “…the terrible truth is that until corporate leaders acknowledge that having more women on their boards is a business issue, not merely one of social justice, progress will remain slow.” And that while many male CEOs argue that the pool of qualified women is too shallow, they would like to serve alongside female corporate directors.
These men must not have received the memo that there is, in fact, an ocean of professional women capable of serving on their board. Yet, despite the positive business attributes brought on by having three or more women on a board, nearly a quarter of Fortune 500 giants have not appointed a single woman to the board. Achieving gender diversity in the boardroom continues to be a tremendously challenging feat – a goal hindered by longstanding business traditions. In addition to the great gender diversity tips offered by WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) in the Forbes post, I invite you to check out the new ION Investor Toolkit – a collection of resources for individual investors, mutual fund investors and consumers who wish to help move the needle:
Mutual Fund Investors
Learn More and Connect with Others
Executive women worldwide are searching for ways to make change happen; change that will empower women to take their rightful place in the corporate world. Here in the U.S., ION is embracing this momentum and pushing forward with our friends and allies because we believe that by working together that we will achieve gender diversity.
We’ve spent the last six months connecting with other women’s organizations to plan events that will highlight issues central to increasing gender diversity in the corporate boardroom. For example, in coordination with our member organizations we have several upcoming events planned with our industry partner PAX World to promote gender equality as an investment concept. We’re also partnering for two unique events with Women’s Business Leaders in the Health Industry (WBL).
ION continues to seek affiliations with organizations that share a similar mission to ours and has formed relationships with Direct Women (focusing on accomplished women in the legal profession) and Womenetics, a news-based media company that focuses on women’s empowerment across all facets of the economic environment. We also recently participated in a webinar with Women’s Funding Network to discuss the key findings of ION’s 7th Annual Report.
In addition to ION’s events, its member organizations are also actively moving forward with their own initiatives to drive change. We are fortunate to share these best practices among organizations which provide a great platform from which to serve our more than 10,000-women members. Please enjoy reading about what we are doing to spread the word.
A recent Glass Hammer article focused on the “naming and shaming” trend used by some gender diversity advocates. To quote the article, “But perhaps the proactive argument for diversity isn’t enough. Perhaps what is needed is to brand those companies with zero boardroom diversity as a holdouts [sic] against progressive industry practices, who are stubbornly deflecting societal and economic calls for change.” As a long-time diversity supporter, I applaud the corporations that promote gender equality, but have never publicly admonished specific companies with zero boardroom diversity. Years of research from various organizations like ION and Catalyst prove that corporate boardroom tradition is hard to break. While it is tempting to resort to a more assertive approach, we feel it is just as important to continue to equip investors and shareholders with the tools they need to increase the number of women in leadership positions at the companies in which they invest their dollars. In fact, saying no to all male boards may be just as powerful as calling out corporations with zero diversity.