Women’s Innate Leadership Style Well Suited for Boardroom

by ION Treasurer and President Elect Sarah Meyerrose

A recent article in the Korn/Ferry Institute Briefings on talent and leadership discussed the “real” reason why women aren’t advancing to the top, despite documented increases in capable, educated women leaders. In “Why the Gender Gap Won’t Go Away,” the author cites U.S. Department of Education data that women received 44 percent of MBA’s in 2007. Despite the fact that women are increasingly more equally represented as MBA graduates, Catalyst Research Director Christine Silva notes that,

“…even with their very first job after MBA graduation, women start from behind when it comes to level and pay — even after we controlled for prior work experience, industry, region and other factors. A lot of people suggest that if we just give it time, the gender gap will go away, but we see if you give it time, the gap gets wider.”

The article reiterates prior findings that the “reasons” for this gender gap include the lack of internal support by senior executives; women leaders’ tendency to appear less confident and more cautious than their male counterparts; and female executives’ lower aggression and risk-taking qualities compared to their male counterparts.  At the same time these studies almost counter-intuitively note that women are equally effective as men when negotiating on others’ behalf because it’s “consistent with the expected female role of caretaker.”

The author goes on to reject accepted remedies to overcome these “deficiencies” arguing instead in favor of viewing them as “ideal leadership characteristics:”

“But from a different perspective, it seems obvious that being thoughtfully cautious, believing one’s accomplishments should stand on their own, avoiding bluster and self-promotion, and being more comfortable advocating for others than for oneself are ideal leadership characteristics, not signs of a lack of confidence, ambition or efficacy. It would be preferable if, rather than requiring sponsorship to compensate for these “deficiencies,” more companies began to recognize the value of such behavior in its own right and rewarded it accordingly.”

While each individual brings their own unique approach to leadership, we must continue to search and advocate for the key characteristics that are most effective in driving improved outcomes. Please accept an invitation to join with ION in leading your colleagues and organizations to focus on the need for diversity of thought, experience and style, in large part by advocating for gender equality in board rooms and executive suites. March is “Women Helping Women” month. Why not celebrate it by committing to sponsor and support a high-potential woman in your company or sphere of influence?  You can make a difference in helping to narrow and eventually close the gender gap.  Start today…you’ll be glad you did!

Pointing Fingers at Facebook

by ION Treasurer and President Elect Sarah Meyerrose

A recent post in the Points and Figures blog sparked a greater conversation with my colleagues about how women can develop strategic networks in male-dominated arenas. In “Diversity and Board of Directors,” author Jeff Carter writes:

“There has been a lot of blather about Facebook’s upcoming IPO. Many are critical of Facebook because they don’t have anyone other than white men on their board. Those critics are very misplaced in their criticism…Before you stop reading this and call me a racist, I don’t discount diverse opinions and experiences. I just think that before anyone points fingers on diversity, they ought to think about the facts behind the anecdotes and examine what true diversity really is.”

Mr. Carter goes on to argue that women haven’t learned how to properly develop the business partnerships needed to advance to the boardroom, yet he stops short of suggesting just how we can prepare women to develop these networks or what responsibility corporations need to take to search out diversity of opinion and experience. Instead, he lists the basic responsibilities of a corporate board member and writes,

“Those are the standards that the Facebook board ought to be held to. Not some touchy feely non quantifiable diversity standard that doesn’t make a bit of difference in the success or failure of the firm.”

Despite his poor choice of words, I can understand Mr. Carter’s point – if that were the case. But it’s not. Numerous studies have shown that diverse boards can indeed make a difference in the success of the firm. In his “Gender Quality as an Investment Concept” paper, Pax World President/CEO and ION Advisory Council Member Joe Keefe cites a 2007 Catalyst study that found companies with the highest proportion of women board members “outperformed those with the lowest percentage of women by 66% on the basis of return on invested capital.”

To further justify Facebook’s lack of board diversity, Mr. Carter points out that the Venture Capital sector is mostly male, and that most engineering or research science majors are male as well, while giving a small nod to the gradual changes in education and entrepreneurship. This assertion is actually in opposition to his point that boards require a diversity of thought and approach. Why would you want a boardroom full of engineers or research science majors (who arguably share common experiences) trying to guess what will appeal to the very broad demographic that Facebook seeks to reach?

Mr. Carter’s narrow view of “diversity” makes his post fall flat. Besides his biased view of the value of true diversity, he does a disservice to organizations like ION by giving in to the myth that we don’t emphasize diversity of thought and approach. One look at our Best Practices page and that argument is quickly put to rest. The issue is pure and simple:  corporate boards are missing 51 percent of the available talent pool.

Increasing Boardroom Gender Diversity in 2012

The energy of a new year often lingers through January, especially when we reflect on how far we’ve come and the opportunities that await us. ION’s eighth annual status report of women directors and executive officers of public companies in 14 U.S. regions, titled “Gender Imbalance in the Boardroom: Opportunities to Change Course,” summarizes this nicely. Published last month, the report recalls ION’s new organizational friendships, a fresh proxy toolkit and much more. You can download the full-color PDF or request printed copies to hand out at your organization’s next event.

For the first time, the release of ION’s report coincided with Catalyst’s release of their annual census on the number of women on Fortune 500 boards. This helped us get national attention in publications such as Forbes. Look for ION to form more mutually beneficial relationships in 2012 with like-minded organizations.

With a reach that exceeds more than 10,000 women nationwide, ION is prepared to raise the bar when it comes to advocating for gender diversity in the boardroom and executive suites. Can we count on your support? The ION website’s Events page is an excellent place to start. Check out “Unlocking a Source of Growth: Women in the Boardroom” at the end of January in Sacramento, Calif. and “Executive Presence: Being Perceived as a Leader” in Atlanta in February. In April, there’s “Roadmap to the Boardroom” in Baltimore and The Conference Board’s “2012 Women’s Leadership Conference” in New York. Most of these events are open to both ION members and non-members alike interested in learning more about what gender diversity means for their industry, organization and career.

As we continue to strive for a balance of patience and fervor for our cause, I’ll leave you with this question: What will you do to increase gender diversity in the boardroom in 2012?

Enhance Your Mission Through Collaboration

I recently had the opportunity to author a guest blog post for ION Member Watermark. In “Enhance Your Mission through Collaboration,” I reflect on the recent research regarding the number of women executives and board members — in California and nationwide. I also emphasize the importance of collaboration to help accelerate change and give examples of how to change the landscape of corporate leadership.

Read the full blog here.

Summit Meetings

Contributed by Jilaine Hummel Bauer, ION board member at large. She is the founder of Bauer Consulting and is on the Steering Committee of Milwaukee Women inc (MWi).

On November 16th, the day ION hosted a summit in New York attended by prominent thought leaders and business executives to consider the status of women corporate directors and strategies for increasing their number, the caption, “Summit Meetings,” caught my eye in the Wall Street Journal. Michael J. Ybarra, extreme sports correspondent for the WSJ wrote of his experience climbing the summits in Grand Teton National Park, “Not long after a glorious sunrise, I scrambled up the first of the seven major summits I was hoping to climb in a single day. Unfortunately, it was the wrong summit. From below I had misjudged which prong on Teewinot’s spiky crown was the highest…” Finding himself ten minutes of torturous navigation away from his target, Mr. Ybarra was forced to retrace his steps. Traversing a route that was complex and unpredictable with ever-changing views and potentially lethal weather, he observed that strategy and adaptability were key. Climbing alone and sometimes with others who took different paths required the interchangeable use of trust, skill and grit.

Whether a board pondering greater diversity among its members, a qualified candidate that can bring diversity to a board or ION and others who want to help ensure their success, the insights and tools for traversing what first appears to be a convoluted ridge line can also be used to make great strides towards increasing board diversity.

Differentiate Yourself: Personal Branding for Board Access

Contributed by Elisa-Marie Dumas, Vice President of Development at ION Member Organization Watermark.
The original blog post appeared at: http://www.wearewatermark.org/2011/10/differentiate-yourself-personal-branding-for-board-access/

“Personal Branding” has become an exceedingly popular term, and it seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Frequently, personal branding is understood as nothing more than crafting a strong social media presence- translating your personality and thought leadership into active and robust accounts.

Although social media can be leveraged to heighten your brand, personal branding is more fundamental than posting on your Twitter account a couple of times a day. It reaches beyond your online presence and should be reflected in your communications, leadership style, and even in your decision-making process.

A good brand presents something marketable, a unique identity with something exceptional to offer. It has its own voice, its own identity, its own style and its own ideas. It operates differently than its competitors, and it’s instantly recognizable.

Just like a good brand- you also present something marketable and unique, with a special style, voice and identity. The question is: how do you develop your personal brand, and how do you leverage it when you have a specific career goal in mind- such as joining a public and private board?

The first step is to start seeing yourself as a product to be marketed. Get ready to take an objective look at your strengths and get ready to promote them! Part of building a personal brand is a willingness to market yourself. Reticence to self-promote is common specifically within women of the Boomer generation, which is the generation of professional women primed to fill board seats.

When seeking a board role, oftentimes candidates don’t present anything more than their resume: their professional milestones and career trajectory. While those details are certainly important, the fact is that they don’t tell the whole story. At the end of the day, you’re much more than the sum of your career successes, are you not?

The trick is to identify and present the quantifiable value that you bring to the table: What undervalued talents do you possess that set you apart from your peers? What makes you an incredible leader? What’s your “impact story”- the way your style and decision making has impacted your company’s bottom line?

It’s important to get very specific; many people try to be everything, a generalist, when going after a board seat. It’s far easier for boards or board recruiters to see a fit for you within their board matrix when you can really articulate how you’re different- and better – than your competition.

Convey these values to the people that matter most, and present them in a straightforward, confident, and assertive manner. It will set you apart from other one-note candidates, and you’ll be perceived as a multifaceted, dynamic and valuable asset, someone that the company can’t succeed without.

Women on Boards: Still Lonely at the Top

Contributed by Marilyn Nagel, CEO of ION Member Organization Watermark.
The original blog post appeared at: http://www.wearewatermark.org/2011/09/women-on-boards-still-lonely-at-the-top/

A recent article in The Economist explores the ongoing issue of the lack of women on boards in the U.S. and worldwide and the measures taken to combat it. Diversity and inclusion professionals (and women everywhere) have long been banging their heads against this same wall; the numbers have remained at a virtual standstill for a shocking amount of time.

The article, Women In Business: Still Lonely at the Top, specifically addresses the tactic of implementing quotas to boost numbers. The prime example is that of Norwegian boards, which were 9% female in 2003 and were ordered to become 40% female within five years. Other European countries have followed suit, prompting some American audiences to wonder if this might also be the solution.

While it’s true that the enforcement of quotas has made a drastic difference, we’re only now beginning to understand the implications of such rapid change:

“To obey the law, Norwegian firms promoted many women who were less experienced than the directors they had before. A recent study found that firms that were forced to increase the share of women on their boards by more than ten percentage points saw one measure of corporate value (the ratio of market capitalization to the replacement value of assets, known as Tobin’s Q) fall by 18%.”

In light of this research my perspective is that quotas for women on boards is not the answer. As the article suggests, the answer is complex and requires change from boards of directors, corporate executives, and from women.

Widen your lens- and your options. The first step is for boards to examine the job descriptions they create and how they recruit board members. They should not compromise their standards as was done in Norway to comply with quotas, but should look at the requirements of sitting on a board. The common standard is experience as a CEO, or at minimum C-suite and P&L (profit and loss) experience.

The fact is that a very small percentage of women (or minorities for that matter) are in the C-suite or CEOs, and many women who are in the C-suite are in fields that are not P&L carrying. This eliminates most women without examining equivalent experience that might enhance the board.

We all understand that diversity is healthy particularly when it comes to innovation and ensuring there isn’t “group think.” We also know that the financial crisis was anticipated and raised by a woman, but as a lone voice, she was not listened to. The BODs of the failed financial institutions all met the qualifications that are still held as sacrosanct – this would suggest that maybe voices from another discipline, or perspective might be healthy.

Wouldn’t a woman with top-level executive experience be as qualified to see financial gaps even if they did not carry P&L experience? For example, a Chief Human Resources Officer doesn’t carry P&L, yet has to be closely partnered with the CFO to run a company, develop policy on salary, stock options, and benefits. When we rule out anyone without P&L, we are losing great talent, and many of them women.

Leaders of the future. Corporate executives need to look within their ranks and at their bench strength to see if they are leaders for today or are leaders of the future. Leaders of the future have a different skill set, and are inclusive of many of the characteristics traditionally attributed to women. Then corporate leadership teams need to sponsor – to use Sylvia Ann Hewitt’s model, and ensure that talented women are put in positions where they can have greater exposure.

Invest in yourself. Women need to find sponsors, evaluate their network to see if it will help them achieve their career goals, and take advantage of board development programs. Programs like the Watermark Institute Board Access Program™ can connect them with opportunities to serve on boards. Women need to invest in themselves the way they invest in those who are still climbing the corporate ladder.

3D Matters Because a Good Board is a Balanced Board

I recently had the opportunity to author a guest blog post for Diverse Director Datasource (3D). In “3D Matters Because a Good Board is a Balanced Board,” I question why women remain poorly represented in the boardroom and urge corporations to view the issue of women on boards as a strategic business move.

Read the full blog here.

Congratulations Chelsea Clinton: this is what we are working for!

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.

We Can Do Better!

Contributed by Sarah Meyerrose, ION Treasurer and President Elect. Ms. Meyerrose is also a member of Nashville CABLE and is the principal of SMSS LLC.

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.