I was recently interviewed by CBC about my views regarding the dismal stats about the presence of Women on Boards. It was a pleasant surprise as I am often raising this topic (but seemingly to deaf ears). Companies with at least 30% women on their Boards perform better. It's fact.
And yet, it's 2017 and only 13% of companies have 3 women on their Board. It's even lower in the tech industry at 11% and not showing signs of improvement with 66% of technology companies today having no women or only woman on their Board. At this rate I'll be long gone before the recommended 3 women necessary to generate better performance becomes standard practice in Canada. But why are businesses not making this a priority? It's well documented that this is in the business' best interest:
Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women Directors outperform their competitors with low female representation in Return on Equity, Return on Sales and Return on Invested Capital.
Boards with more women members are better at measuring strategy and monitoring its implementation.
Boards with more women are better at risk management.
Having more women Board members is good for attracting and retaining top female talent.
When I've talked to businessmen about this issue I hear common explanations for their situation today. "I don't intentionally bring on only men. I just bring on the best people I know regardless of gender." It sounds reasonable until you consider that 92% of board seats are filled through networking, and women have less access to these networks. You are likely fishing in a goldfish bowl.
I also hear "I had a woman on my board once and she never really spoke up." Sorry, tokenism (which is commonplace in the tech sector) doesn't actually work. I've often been the lone woman seated at the boardroom table and can attest that results are not the same as if you have 3 women at the table. Why? There are a few reasons. Firstly, women tend to give more critical thought and consideration before sharing opinions. In a Board setting we listen more and talk less so we get less air time. Also our unique perspective can easily be considered an outlier if we are the only female at the table. Differentiated perspectives are easily dismissed if all but one think in unison. When you have a threshold requirement of 3 women at the table it will provide sufficient weighting to give proper balance to discussions and debates, and a better end will result. This isn't just opinion, it's proven.
One truth is there are fewer women with Board experience today, so it's certainly fair for a businessman to claim this as an issue. But experience can't come before opportunity - and there is plenty of merit in having a qualified woman with no Board experience on your team. We all know the benefits of a 'fresh set of eyes'.
SO ARE YOU READY TO COMMIT TO 3 WOMEN ON YOUR BOARD BY THE END OF THE YEAR?
This one decision will be the best decision you'll make all year. Promise! The impact will cascade to the executive team, influence managers and ultimately impact every person at the company.
Need more convincing? You'll also be doing your part to hugely impact the economic engine of our entire business ecosystem. Women will not reach optimal numbers at the largest Public companies without first acquiring the experience at smaller companies. For many women today there is less of a glass ceiling, but there is definitely a narrow hallway of opportunity to gain the experience required to sit on the Boards of our Public companies. Businessmen, we need you to lean in on this or it is never going to change. Women need corporate Board experience and even small businesses can be a critical player in creating those experiential opportunities.
So your smart decision today to commit to ensuring 3 women on your Board (be it Advisory Board or Board of Directors) will both improve your bottom line and contribute greatly to the future economic development of the country.
* The opinions above are mine by the stats are not. They are shared from the Vell Study a Publication of Women Board Members of Vell Executive Search and a number of reports from Catalyst.
Susan Richards serves on the Board of Directors of Invest Ottawa, the President's Advisory Board at Algonquin College, and the ED Advisory Board at AmbiSHEous. Past Board positions include CMA Ontario and Equal Voice.