THE BLOG

Why the Gender Gap on Corporate Boards?

08/19/2013 11:17 am ET | Updated Oct 19, 2013

In The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors, author Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire tell us there are five reasons for the wage gap on corporate boards:

1. Boards tend to look for CEOs to fill board seats. Since only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, pickins' are slim indeed. How many boards can these 22 women sit on and still run their companies?

2. Boards also prefer candidates that have prior public company board experience, thus the candidate pool continues to be male-dominated. Men refer to the pool as "limited," perhaps unaware that their criterion is doing the limiting!

3. Beyond the barrier of prior board membership, too few women have the C-suite experience nominating committee look for. Catalyst reports that women held only 14.3% of America's top corporate jobs in 2011. In a 30-year study, McKinsey & Co. found that although women comprised 53% of new hires at the largest U.S. companies, only 26% were promoted to executive positions.

4. Despite these disappointing statistics, there is a large pool of qualified women board candidates. Could it be that current directors are more comfortable with all-male peers? Some men seem to suffer anxiety about bringing a woman into their midst, say directors interviewed for The Board Game. "You have to be pre-certified by another male director who has seen you in action."

5. For generations, even some career women didn't set their sights on joining public company boards. There were too few role models, and women didn't realize what strategies were required over time. They didn't build influential networks in their industries and in their communities. They didn't seek visibility for their accomplishments in the business world. Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell's Soup and a strong advocate for more women on corporate boards says, "It has to be a career-long, purpose-driven pursuit."

But the future looks promising. Because of recent research from Credit Suisse that shows companies with gender-balanced boards were 26% more successful over a six-year period, corporate America is becoming more aware of the value of a diversity of voices in decision-making. Male CEOs, women's professional groups and activist shareholders are urging nominating committee to expand the outdated matrix of qualifications that currently governs recruiting. Global commerce and rapid changes in digital technology demand fresh thinking, innovation and specialized experience.