more conversations about the lack of women at the top

Looking southwest across Vanderbilt Avenue, fr...Image via Wikipedia

I went to an interesting lunch yesterday at the Yale Club.  Janet Hanson of 85 Broads invited me to attend.  She created a group called the Power Circle Luncheon.  She brings a topic, an author or something of interest once a month and invites people from the Power Circle to attend.  A great way to network and learn.  I met a bunch of smart women working in a variety of different fields.

After meeting and greeting we all sat down to hear Diana Taylor and Janice Reals Ellig discuss being on corporate boards and how there are so few women on them.  As I have said in the past, I hate the negativity.  I'd rather focus on the positive and how people are working to bring more women on corporate boards. Not sure that is the discussion that was had. 

Diana Taylor sits on a variety of high powered boards such at Citigroup which would make perfect sense considering she is the former New York State Superintendent of Banks.  She completely acknowledged that we need more women on corporate boards.  That she has personally ended up on most of the boards she serves on through networking vs being head hunted.  The issue is that many of the boards at this level want to have members at a certain level of their career and there are not a big pool of women to choose from. 

The other person on this small panel was Janice Reals Ellig who has been a senior-level corporate recruiter working with CEO's and Boards of Directors on organizational development and succession planning.   She made the point that if anyone in the room wants to sit on a corporate board, they need to start working on that goal now.  Start networking, thinking about which board makes sense etc.  Most of the women in the room already sit on not-for-profit boards and were pretty high powered financiers, lawyers, writers and entrepreneurs in the room.  Janice felt that corporations should start to think out of the box.  That is a point I completely agreed with.  Guaranteed there wasn't a person in the room that isn't qualified to sit on a board such as Citigroup but don't have the connections and status. 

I have sat on a variety of boards, mostly start-ups and a few not-for-profits.  In the start-up world, the board support changes as the company grows.  I can't stress how important it is for every start-up once they have funding to create a board.  The bi-laws might state that the board consists of 5 or 7 people but at the early stage you only begin with 3 and the board will grow over time.  Each member at that level provides a huge support system for an entrepreneur or CEO (although the two are generally the same at this point).  As the company grows and takes more funding, the board begins to change and they provide invaluable insight, direction and support.  Call me crazy but I don't think it is a reach to say that as the start-ups become multi-million dollars businesses that those boards probably do a lot more than a corporate board.  Getting to that level of a business is hard work and the decisions that are agonized and made to get there are not easy. 

The corporate board comes directly out of corporate America which is absolutely male driven.  Maybe over time that will change perhaps many of those companies won't be here in twenty years and companies where there is a better balance of women will take their place.  Who knows.  Maybe corporate boards, like they have done in some foreign countries, should be forced to have a certain percentage of the board as women.  Forcing corporate America to think out of the box. 

Certainly interesting to hear both Diana and Janice's perspective on women and boards.  Lots of conversation taking place.  Just of interest, Diana never had children of her own.  Janice has much older children. Just something to think about.  Diana, who is a very high-powered women and extraordinary, really cares about women's issues and sits on many well known corporate boards did not have to make the decisions that many women in corporate America have had to make.  Her career has mirrored many high power men because men never (I should say rarely) have the push/pull many women feel once children come into the equation.  Those decisions about children is one of the many reasons that the pool of women for corporate boards is so small. 

Perhaps it is about time that more corporate boards think a little bit out of the box and bring women on to these boards that are smart, capable and insightful that might not necessarily be at the top of the food chain but are at a level where more women reside because of the fact that having children is a bigger responsibility than sitting on a corporate board. 

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