Companies need more women on corporate boards. Women make up the vast majority of global consumers; they lead with a different style. They tend to be more risk-averse and raise the important issue of diversity within corporate boards. Women's issues are global issues: education, childcare, healthcare, nutrition and human rights abuses.
Yet one of the biggest obstacles blocking the ascent of many women is an outdated perception that a narrow list of credentials is critical to being a good board member. Historically, these credentials have been those that men, as they have risen to the tops of organizations, have acquired throughout their careers, including line or management responsibility, regulatory compliance, financial leadership and a robust network of, usually, like-minded men. Most of us recognize that corporate boards must broaden their understanding of who makes a good board candidate, and that includes a wide range of experiences and perspectives sitting around the board table. But old habits die hard.
Many of us talk and write about this problem. And it is a problem when corporate boards are comprised of only 16% of women, a severely disproportionate representation of women who represent 40% of the workforce and 85% of the buying power. One leading university is finally taking action and doing something about it.
The George Washington School of Business (GWSB) and the International Women's Forum (IWF) have collaborated to create a unique program designed to prepare, promote and place women on corporate boards: On the Board: Advancing Women's Corporate Board Leadership. The program intends to put more women on corporate boards by training and equipping women leaders with the skills to become successful candidates.
GWSB has come up with a program that offers women advanced training in board-level leadership knowledge and practice, including corporate strategy, crisis management, ethical and responsible decision-making, corporate finance and value creation, risk assessment, leadership communications and regulatory compliance. Women in the program will have a group of mentors consisting of GWSB and other elite U.S. and international university faculty, leading practitioners, including sitting board members and directors, and voices from the IWF network. These already savvy business leaders will emerge as even stronger leaders in today's global world.
So who are these lucky women chosen for the inaugural class? On the Board recently announced its first 15 Fellows, selected from a highly competitive, qualified, and overwhelming number of applicants: Caryl Athanasiu, Executive Vice President, Chief Operational Risk Officer, Wells Fargo & Company; Shelley Bird, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Cardinal Health; Barbara Byrne, Vice Chairman, Investment Banking Division, Barclays; Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Partner, the Livingston Group; Laura Hwang, President, Singapore Council of Women's Organizations; Deborah Lentz, Senior Vice President, Customer Service & Logistics, Kraft Foods; Isabel Linares, Senior Counselor, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC Spain); Penny McIntyre, President, Newell Consumer Group; Gail McKee, Chief Human Resources Officer, Towers Watson; Nancy Philippart, Executive in Residence, Engineering Ventures Program, Wayne State University; Shoba Purushothaman, Founder, Training Ventures; Sandra Sanchez y Oldenhage, President and CEO, Amgen Mexico; Anita M. Sands, Group Managing Director and Head of Change Leadership, UBS Wealth Management Americas; Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President, Charles Schwab Foundation, Senior Vice President, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Sandra M. Stash, Global Senior Vice President for Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Operational Assurance, Talisman Energy.
Ultimately, On the Board's goal is to place all 15 of these clearly highly-qualified women on boards and to continue doing so with each group of participants year after year, directly increasing the overall percentage of women on corporate boards. But On the Board's aspirations don't stop there; they plan to serve as a sort of watch dog group for women by advocating for and monitoring the numbers of women on boards. On the Board plans to hold companies accountable through research and measurement for the severe disparities of gender in high business positions.
"On the Board will most certainly change business by having an almost immediate impact on the gender balance of corporate boards," said Doug Guthrie, dean of GWSB. "And by changing business at the very top level, and pulling it into the 21st century, we will also affect change in the larger business environment and society overall."
These 15 women are only the start of a strong initiative toward addressing the issue of gender on corporate boards. As On the Board attracts more attention with its efforts, I hope the discussion of women on corporate boards will garner more attention, too, leading to more action-oriented programs that advocate for women. It's not just a numbers game. Diverse thinking is required to take companies forward today. I think GWSB and IWF are on the right track to making a big difference not only for women, but the success of the companies that welcome them to their boards.