Gender Diversity in the Boardroom: Q&A with Verona Dorch – Former General Counsel, Harsco Corp.

Gerald Mathews Gender Diversity in the Boardroom, The Board Connection Leave a Comment

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 Verona Dorch – Former General Counsel, Harsco Corp. 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?

Verona Dorch: I aspire to serve on the board for a public or private company for the same reasons many other candidates do: my background and critical thinking skills, honed both in law school and over the last 20 years, would be a benefit to the strategic and business needs of both public and private companies as they continue to navigate rapidly changing regulatory and business environments around the globe, particularly as they relate to corporate governance and risk management matters.  Serving on a board would also benefit me, allowing me to continue to sharpen and enhance the skill sets I have already developed via my work as a public company general counsel and compliance and risk management professional.  Serving on a board also offers an opportunity to expand my leadership skills.

FM: Why is gender diversity important for corporate boards? 

VD: I believe that all types of diversity are important for corporate boards (i.e., gender, racial, cultural) in order to ensure that company-related governance, strategic and business issues are looked at through multiple lenses and are looked at in terms of the impact not only on the company, but also on its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders. In some ways, this diversity of approach is no different than ensuring that multiple business and functional viewpoints are represented in the board room (via the management team), with the added benefit of differing life experiences also factoring into deliberations, discussions and decision-making.  Diverse perspectives help boards (and hence, management teams and shareholders) better understand risks and how to manage them.  But it is also important to note that gender diversity is merely one of the attributes that a female director brings to a board.  If you look at the profiles of women currently serving on public company boards (and of women aspiring to serve on boards), these women also bring financial and business acumen, global perspectives and other strongly desired skill sets with them as candidates.

FM: What is the biggest reason you believe that there are not more women on corporate boards? 

VD: Perception versus reality.  In other words, the perception of which types of C-suite candidates possess the desired attributes for Board service (today, primarily, CEOs and CFOs) has not (yet) caught up with the reality that those holding other seats within the C-suite (e.g., General Counsels, Human Resources leads) also possess strong business and strategic skills and often have advanced degrees, whether MBAs or otherwise that take their areas of expertise well beyond their then-current functional lead roles. A broader recognition of the ability to find these attributes in multiple leaders within the executive ranks will over time broaden the pool of potential candidates for board service, particularly given that more searches are now being run by leading search firms, who have profiles of many different types of candidates within their databases.

FM: Have you explored or pursued any corporate board opportunities? 

VD: Not yet in terms of public companies, though I have served on several non-profit Boards.  I do intend to explore for-profit board opportunities within the next 3-5 years, however.

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? 

VD: I’d say it’s a mix of both.  More boards, at the outset of a search, should be willing to conduct targeted searches that emphasize the desire to have a diverse pool of candidates who hold a variety of C-suite roles, and then work with the search firms to confirm how the desired board attributes are distributed amongst those candidates.  Boards should also look at broadening the list of desired attributes given the types of issues facing companies today (technology, cybersecurity, regulatory matters, risk management), as there are ways that functional as well as business leaders are addressing these issues that would be beneficial to a board.

FM: What type of resources or assistance would you like to receive that might prepare you to serve on a corporate board? 

VD: More dialogue with search firms and board Chairs as to why a broader set of attributes is beneficial; a “Board Certification” process to prepare a pre-screened pool of candidates; more case studies and interviews with “non-traditional” candidates to further spread the word as to their success on for-profit company board, including more discussions and surveys such as this one to continue to publicize not just the issue, but the solutions.  I have no doubt that the current make-up of boards is changing and will continue to change as this dialogue continues and as the data continues to prove the benefits of a diverse board and diverse dialogue therein.

Comments, thoughts, feedback?