Autor: Jill Larsen
When it comes to finding qualified women to fill board director seats, the refrain I hear from male board directors and CEOs frequently goes like this: “There aren’t enough qualified women, and if they’re out there, we can’t find them.” What can’t be overlooked is that this claim becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when search committees only source candidates via traditional methods.
Referrals and personal networks within a space occupied so disproportionately by men yield more male candidates. Even when companies go through executive search firms, most of those agencies will only present women with previous public board experience. This doesn’t leave much space for qualified women looking for their first board opportunity. The reality is that the bar is much lower for men to get their first board seat than women or minority candidates.
My company experienced this situation — and one unique solution — firsthand. To combat the issue, we bucked convention and chose to directly source the first woman of color for our board. We networked with board, industry and diversity-focused organizations, as well as university programs with women’s leadership programs, in addition to our employees’ referrals. Ultimately, we connected (on LinkedIn, believe it or not) with an endocrinologist and chief medical officer who had extensive experience as a senior leader in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite having no prior board experience, Dr. Maria Rivas was the perfect choice and joined our board of directors in October 2018.
What are the best practices for you if you’re pursuing gender parity on your board of directors? Here are five steps your organization can take to truly bring the best candidates forward and set them up for success.
1. Take a nonconventional approach to your board search.
If you’ve struggled to find strong women candidates, try something new. Partner with an organization that promotes women on boards, such as WomenCorporateDirectors, Catalyst or 2020 Women on Boards. And leverage your employees, especially your female leaders. Almost every woman executive has a list of other qualified women who they’d be happy to refer — great women know great women! Assure your board that their future colleague will meet the high standards set for board membership, and empower your CHRO to determine how best to deliver.
2. Seek out candidates without board experience.
Look at accomplished executives who haven’t yet joined any boards. If you decide to go the executive search route, demand they present a slate of candidates without prior board experience. The array of talent will significantly expand your pool and ultimately enrich the list of potential candidates for these agencies.
3. Leverage your CHRO.
The essence of a CHRO’s role is to identify and nurture professional talent that best fits the needs of your organization. They have huge networks of talented people, and you should tap into this asset whenever possible.
4. Create a resource framework to ensure new board members succeed.
Any new board member will benefit from a defined process to acclimate them to your company and their new colleagues on the board. Create a clear and delineated plan that includes elements like structured onboarding, one-to-one mentorship and attendance at a board of directors course. As with any new employee, tap your talent development team to support a thoughtful and deliberate learning program.
5. Pay it forward.
Curate talent within your organization, and prepare them to assume board roles. Send talented women and diverse leaders to board director programs, and support their introduction to executive search firms and board directors to ensure they are considered. We took this approach with our CTO, Julie Iskow, who recently landed her first public board director role.
Many of your key stakeholders have board gender parity on their list of priorities. Both shareholders and analysts demand gender diversity when it comes to corporate governance. Further, prospective and current employees consider this when they decide whether to join and stay with your company. It’s really a no-brainer: Companies with stronger gender parity on their boards are simply more profitable.