Only 19% of corporate board of directors seats are filled by women. With our friends at The Board Connection, we asked our executive network why it’s important to increase this number and how to do it.
Editor’s Note: According to a recent study by our friends at The Board Connection, only 19% of corporate board of directors seats are filled by women. This is an improvement from years past, but corporations have significant room for improvement when it comes to gender diversity in the boardroom. 7% still have no female board members. For additional statistics and insight, we encourage you to read the conclusions of the study on The Board Connection website.
We sought out executives who were either serving on corporate boards or aspire to do so, to create discussion around this topic. This Q&A is with Kristen Robinson – Chief Human Resources Officer, Pandora Media, Inc. Please follow this link to see all the responses in the series.
Forefront Magazine: The mission of TBC is to develop and prepare women for public company board seats. Why do you aspire to serve on the board for a public company?
Kristen Robinson: I’ve had many experiences in different businesses/industries (medical products, test and measurement, diversified technology, consumer internet and digital media) and in different roles over the years (public accounting, finance, marketing, new ventures, human resources). I synthesize and apply all that experience to my current work as the CHRO of Pandora, but I’m also at a stage in my career that I want to give back in broader ways – being a thought leader in my profession, mentoring up-and-coming young people early in their careers and serving on the BOD of a public (or private) company.
I have also supported four BODs in four different companies in a variety of ways, including intense work for compensation committees. I’ve seen them in action and see how they can work well and how, sometimes they don’t work so well. I see how traditionally, they have paid little attention to the talent issues in the organization – when that is what so often makes or breaks the success of the business. I can add that talent-centered perspective along side a broader business perspective and think I can add unique value.
FM: Why is gender diversity important for corporate boards?
KR: I think all kinds of diversity is absolutely critical for BODs. Diversity of domain knowledge and specialty areas, industry, age, racial or ethnic heritage, and gender. It comes down to diversity of experiences and diversity of thought. The more diversity and therefore breadth you have on a board, the more you will be able to get broader perspectives and more creative insights that may not be generated when you have a lot of like-minded people.
Specifically for women, I find that women will sometimes bring a higher sense of purpose to their involvement and can help focus the business on what is most important. (see article about how to attract women engineers).
I also look at the customers of so many businesses – who makes the purchase decisions – and it’s increasingly women. When companies can have an equal representation of women in the business and on the BOD, I think they will have the mindset that speaks to a very important customer set.)
FM: What is the biggest reason you believe that there are not more women on corporate boards? Have you explored or pursued any corporate board opportunities?
KR: I think many CEOs or BODs are looking for BOD members who have already attained a certain level of status and prestige in their careers – sitting CEOs or other C-level executives. That’s where they start looking for BOD candidates. And, because women are so underrepresented in those roles, they are underrepresented in the candidate slate that gets presented to the BOD search committee or owners. I think search committees need to look more broadly. It’s not lowering the bar. It’s recognizing that there are a ton of really smart, creative, passionate, well-rounded, successful people out there who may not have sat at the most upper levels of another company. If you believe that someone younger, perhaps more junior, can add intellect, knowledge and perspective to the BOD, then you have a much larger pool to draw off of. I think, to some extent, it is a generational thing too. There are a lot more 40-something women who have achieved a certain stature in the business world now, than there are 50 or 60 somethings. Not sure what the average age of BODs are right now, but I would bet that those with a younger average age also have more women and perhaps other ethnic minorities (just a hunch.)
FM: Even though progress is being made how can further steps be taken to address board gender diversity? Does this require a change in mindset? A change in company/board culture? What type of resources or assistance would you like to receive that might prepare you to serve on a corporate board?
KR: See above. Plus:
As far as BOD culture goes – in some BODs it can be a lot of egos, who’s the smartest, who talks the most. I’ve seen some women (and other minorities on BODs) hang back in those environments – I’ve done it myself. A BOD is, in many ways, a team. They have to make tremendously important and collective decisions on behalf of the company. If they would see themselves that way – as a team – and care about becoming a high-performance team, they would make sure they are operating effectively. They would ensure they are hearing all the voices on the BOD including those that less frequently speak up.
I also see a way for women to get some experience to build their BOD credentials is to act on an advisory board or join a BOD of a privately held, early stage or venture backed company. Those may be paths to getting on a public company BOD.
Another change in mindset is in women, themselves. They have to believe they have something to offer and be willing to put themselves out there.
Resources – for me it’s probably about getting help networking. I think so many women give up that aspect of their careers because they prioritize their work and their families first. Networking is a third thing that doesn’t make the cut from a time standpoint. By the time kids may be older, there isn’t the same kind of network that men may have developed because they made the time for it. ♦
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