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Keven Bellows Headshot

Memo to CEOs: Never Hang Up on a Reporter!

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In a recent post, I suggested big-city reporters call the public companies in their regions and ask them if they have any women on their boards of directors and, if not, ask why not, in view of research that shows companies with gender-diverse boards perform better than those with only men.

A columnist for the Boston Globe had already done so. Yvonne Abraham from the Globe called David Brussard, CEO and Board Chair of Safety Insurance Company. She had received a report from 2020 Women on Boards that listed Safety Insurance as a "zero-zero" company (zero women in executive positions; zero women on the board).

To her delight, Mr. Brussard answered his own phone. Here is the verbatim conversation:

She: [politely] Mr. Brussard, why are there no women in executive positions in your company, and no women on your board of directors?

He: You have a good day, OK? [Click!]

Yvonne reports that she was stunned when he hung up on her, but this prepared her for the fact that her calls to the CEOs of other regional zero-zero companies went unanswered. She had left calls for the leaders of Teradyne, IPG, Phototonics and software giant Pegasystems. Ms. Abraham was particularly interested in talking with Pegasystems, because after making the 2020 Women on Boards' zero-zero list last year, they did add another board member -- a man.

Unfortunately, the umbrage at even being questioned on this topic by one man, and the indifference of the others is not surprising. The percentage of women on corporate boards has been stuck at around 16 percent for about a decade, despite the research concerning performance and profits. It appears all but intractable.

"We have to face the fact that when you 'lean in' with some companies, you're leaning into a brick wall," says Ms. Abraham in her excellent column. She goes on to advise that the guys in charge are the ones who should be leaning -- "leaning over backwards" to reshuffle the stacked deck.

The good news is that the women who have made it through the maze -- those 16 percent who have a seat at the table are doing a great job, and they are actively searching out qualified recruits to join them. Fifty-eight are profiled in The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors. Their interviews are both candid and encouraging. The author, Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, has been a retained executive search professional for 20 years, and her book lays out tried and true pathways for career women to walk right through the boardroom door.

I hope other reporters will follow Ms. Abraham's lead and "beard the lions in their dens". If you can't get through to the CEO, or he (it's almost always a "he") doesn't return your calls, call the person in charge of corporate communications. They never hang up on reporters and always return the call. They should realize that your question is a serious one and definitely deserves an answer. Make sure to let them know this issue is NOT going to go away!