Advancing Women to the Boardroom

Potential vs. Performance: Do Nominating Committees Expect More from Women Board Candidates?

From the Skytop Strategies Gender Equality in the C-Suite and Boardroom 2 Symposium

The recent Skytop Strategies symposium on gender equality in the C-suite and boardroom included a roundtable discussion on the differences in potential vs. performance as it relates to how board candidates are evaluated by search firms and nominating committees. The discussion drew on the research that shows that women and men are often held to different standards in corporate settings, where women are evaluated on past performance while men are evaluated on future potential (Catalyst, 2011; Barsh, 2011).

The roundtable participants made the following observations/recommendations during the afternoon discussion. 

Discussion Recommendations:

  • Look at positions where there are women serving in senior management, such as general counsel and CFO – connect with their associations/professional organizations and find ways to partner with them on women on boards initiatives.
  • Identify ways to get more women involved in start-up organizations – as advisors – position them for board service as organizations grow/go public.
  • Reinforce need for a sponsor – someone who will actively advocate for you.
  • Advocate for stated policies regarding board search process that encourages/requires diverse slates – hold companies accountable for following that process.
  • Shareholder activism – encourage/require diverse slates – push for language in the proxy.
    • Institutional investors – some have created policies re: diverse boards, will withhold vote if board nominees don’t meet criteria.
    • Caution: some states are taking action to limit ability of pension funds to vote based on ESG considerations.
  • Acknowledge that it may take 3 – 5 years before a board position opens on a specific board.
  • Look for opportunities to serve on the boards of significant national boards as a way of building experience, network & visibility, such as Federal Reserve, Federal Home Loan Banks. Boards impacted by Dodd-Frank requirements regarding diversity would include those regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • When women are asked for recommendations – don’t be afraid to recommend a woman.
  • Data analytics: who’s on the board now, who’s likely to leave, what expertise will be needed to replace them?
  • Present credentials of board candidates with no gender data – get buy-in re: qualifications before identifying gender of candidate.
  • Engage men!!!
  • Even with directories, online resources/databases of board-ready candidates it’s still not easy to respond when board asks for diverse candidates with specific backgrounds. Need free, easy access to pool of board candidates with ability to search for specific expertise and knowledge.

Discussion Bibliography

2020 Women on Boards. 2016. 2016 Gender Diversity Index.

Barsh. 2011. Unlocking the Full Potential of Women. McKinsey. 

Catalyst. 2011. The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead? 

Catalyst. 2016. 2015 Catalyst Census: Women and Men Board Directors.

Field, Souther & Yore. 2016. Does Diversity Pay in the Boardroom? 

Groysberg & Bell. 2013. Dysfunction in the Boardroom. Harvard Business Review. 

Heidrick & Struggles. 2016. Heidrick & Struggles Board Monitor 2016. 

ION. 2016. 2016 Annual Update of Women Directors and Executive Officers in the Regions. 

Kim & Star. 2016. Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards: Do Women Contribute Unique Skills? 

Lublin. 2016. Some Firms Push for Gender Parity at the Board Level. Wall Street Journal.

Mohr. 2014. Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified. Harvard Business Review.

Reingold. 2016. Why Top Women Are Disappearing From Corporate America. Fortune.


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