With investors as well as gender equity advocates clamoring for improvements, how can corporate boards move beyond that initial step of increasing their gender representation to reaping the real benefits of having more women on their top teams?
Korn Ferry, for a new study, went directly to female directors to learn about the opportunities as well as the barriers they have encountered in board service. The firm conducted a dozen in-depth interviews with seasoned women who serve on Fortune 500 boards. They were pioneers in the boardroom when it was virtually an all-male enclave, and their combined experience encompasses dozens of leading boards and decades of service as directors.
“These powerful female leaders offered valuable insights on how boards can significantly increase both substantive contributions and progress toward diversity and women’s inclusion,” said Julie Norris, a senior client partner in the firm’s Board and CEO Services Practice.
The women directors tackle, in frank fashion, topics like tokenism, resistance to change, and the measurable progress that many organizations have made in gender diversity at the top.
Although published data on almost 22,000 firms in 91 nations has suggested a positive correlation between females in leadership and companies’ profitability, women continue to lag in US board appointments: In 2015, women represented 17.9% of Fortune 1000 company directors, 19.7% of Fortune 500 company directors, and 22.3% of Fortune 100 company directors.
The seasoned women directors also offer recommendations, detailed in the new Korn Ferry study, urging women to exude confidence, be prepared, contribute as team members, and understand what it takes to be an effective director, from start to finish. The expert, executive women also call on boards to learn where to find diverse candidates, to onboard female directors thoughtfully, to engage the team in understanding the importance of having female directors on the board, and to reexamine board practices to ensure that all views are welcomed and heard in the boardroom.
Korn Ferry’s goal, in its research into gender diversity on boards, was to “assist CEOs and directors in competing for the most capable women directors,” said Jane Stevenson, the firm’s vice chairman, Board and CEO Services.
“We also wanted to help ensure that organizations fully leverage the value of increasingly crucial diversity in the boardroom,” she said, noting that “success, in our view, is measured not only by recruiting outstanding women directors—who are in great demand—but in retaining them. Because their service is mutually beneficial: for them, their boards, and the companies these leaders want to build and help thrive.”
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