It’s time for companies to rethink board governance to include diverse representation. Companies need to do a better job of naming women to board of directors seats. I’m on the Board of Directors of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park; I was recruited specifically because the board wanted to strengthen their diversity. This was a deliberate decision, which deserves kudos.
My two creative and intelligent daughters assumed that gender representation on corporate boards was equal, and that people of color were included as well. Sadly, they were mistaken. According to Deloitte research, gender progress on boards and in the executive suite is still quite slow. For instance, in the U.S., only 5.8% of board chairs and only 5.7% of CEOs are women. How does that sit with you? While this is an increase from a few years ago—in 2016, those numbers were 3.7% and 4.6%, respectively—it is not enough. Not even close.
According to Deloitte, at this rate, we won’t reach gender parity until 2045. It is absurd to wait until 2045 for equality of anything. I don’t want my 17- and 22-year-old daughters having to wait until they are 40 and 45. We should strive for equality by 2025.
Board diversity is critical because they are the decision-making body at the highest level of corporate leadership. Board decisions determine the company’s investment in diversity, inclusion and equity. Many companies talk up diversity, but you can see inequity by simply clicking on their leadership pages: profile pics and bios of predominantly middle-aged white males.
For women and people of color in business, this is demoralizing. Many feel unheard and invisible, which is unacceptable when our very own Vice President Kamala Harris is known for having a powerful voice. The Biden administration has appointed record numbers of people of color and women to leadership roles. Corporate boards must catch up. It’s time women are heard.
“Women On Boards”
I look forward to the day when “women on boards” will no longer be a topic of conversation. I’m certified in corporate governance of boards from The Wharton School’s executive program, and we spent a significant amount of class time studying and analyzing how diversity improves productivity.
Change can happen fast: I remember news stories about women not being allowed to work on Navy ships when I covered the Navy as a journalist back in the 1990s. When I landed on an aircraft carrier for a story, I found it odd that only men were working there. I also remember when only men flew fighter jets; when women started becoming fighter pilots, news stories always mentioned their gender. I looked forward to the day when women were referred to as fighter pilots, not as “women fighter pilots.”
Similarly, I long for the day when we can simply say board members and not have to specify race or gender because diversity is the rule rather than the exception. I no longer want to hear other executives say things like “We need a spot for a woman” or “We need a Black person for this role,” making it clear they are looking to check a box rather than truly valuing diversity.
It’s time for this to stop. We are better than this. We are smarter than this.
Glimmers Of Hope
1. I recently read the book CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest, where three McKinsey senior partners interviewed an elite group of leaders to determine the methods that led to their success, including engaging the board and mobilizing through leaders. A bright spot of the book is an example of a successful board made up of 50% women. It gives me hope.
2. An organization called The 30% Club is working to boost female representation on boards and in C-suites up to 30%. I say let’s make it 50%.
3. Finally, there are organizations like Chief, a private membership network that connects and supports women executive leaders from diverse backgrounds, industries and organizations, for a fee.
Call To Action
Put board diversity at the top of your list of priorities. Set a goal of gender parity and racial inclusion. Stop thinking in terms of tokens or simply checking boxes. Decide to make real impact. It’s time to go back to the drawing board, literally. It’s time to close this gap.