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How to Get More Women in the Boardroom

May 29, 2012, 12:00 AM

What's the Big Idea?

This year, more women than men will graduate from institutions of higher education, yet women hold just 15.7% of seats on the boards of U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies, according to Forbes. What gives? In a recent interview with Big Think, Jane Diplock -- former chair of New Zealand SEC and corporate director of several companies including the Singapore Stock Exchange -- described the open hostility she encountered as a female board member in her early 30's. 

A colleague confronted her with his doubts: “Look girlie, what would you know about engineering anyway? How come the Commonwealth has appointed you to be a member of this board?” Watch the video:

She didn't really know, she says, how to respond. "I was somewhat subdued by the approach." Today she advocates for a workplace culture that recognizes and embraces the contributions of women, arguing that "workplace culture is vital." As chair and CEO of the organizations she's run, she's worked proactively to ensure that women had the same opportunities to aspire to senior leadership as men did. An essential component of creating that culture is through internal mentoring.

What's the Significance?

On May 1-2, over 225 of the most powerful corporate business women in the world (representing companies with an estimated market cap of $1 trillion) met in New York City to discuss the idea of increasing the number of women on corporate boards at a meeting hosted by Women Corporate Directors (WCD). The WCD's call to action includes the insistence that at least one woman be considered in every board member search. 

The WCD says that the idea of creating "mixed boards" -- incorporating board members of diverse gender and ethnic backgrounds -- is gaining significant traction, due to a few major trends:

  • The recession has opened people up to doing things differently. Bringing women on boards represents a clear shift from the past, without overturning the system altogether.
  • There's a business case supporting the inclusion of more women on boards. Some studies have found that companies with mixed boards had 56 percent higher operating profits.
  • Some countries around the world (especially Nordic countries) are adopting quotas and lobbying U.S. companies to do the same. 
  • Activists are increasingly vocal, prominent, and connected.

For the next few weeks Big Think, in partnership with the Women Corporate Directors, will be bringing you video interviews with some of the trailblazing women who will speak from experience about this critical issue.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com


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