Women in the Boardroom Hosts Illuminating 9th Annual Board Assembly!

Springtime at Women in the Boardroom brought more than just warmer weather! Last week, we hosted our Spring 2021 virtual Annual Board Assembly! Our last ABA was also virtual and successful beyond belief, so we chose to follow a similar format as we begin to emerge from the pandemic!

We were thrilled to host such a highly interactive experience filled with lively conversation, polls, and breakout sessions. Participants thoroughly enjoyed making true connections and discussing trending topics. For us, our screens were not a limitation but rather a unique opportunity to delivering an intimate and inspirational experience for our members and attendees.

The event, hosted by our captivating leader, Women in the Boardroom President and Founder, Sheila Ronning, and our inspiring WIB CEO, Leslie Dukker Doty, was touted, by members as engaging, interesting, and motivating.

The virtual ABA kicked-off with nearly 100 eager attendees comprised of connectors, influencers and Women in the Boardroom members. With WIB’s unwavering commitment to furthering diversity and inclusion, we are awestruck at attendance including a record number of women of color, a result of WIB’s diversity initiative of increasing and extending membership to minorities through reinvigorated our recruitment practices.

A hallmark feature of the virtual event were the multiple opportunities for Women in the Boardroom Members to practice and strengthen their board-level elevator pitch. They were able to confront areas of uncertainty and gain confidence in positioning their unique value-add for board positions. Additionally, hearing how others present themselves provided inspiration, insight, and a sense of unity.

One elated attendee expressed, “I enjoyed the discussion and the opportunity to share my elevator pitch. The mix of gender and tenure of attendees added a great deal of value to the occasion!”

In addition to rich, varied networking opportunities, we facilitated a space that allowed participants to showcase their wide-ranging thought leadership and learn from one another. Attendees discussed and brainstormed ideas regarding timely issues currently facing corporations including making boards more diverse, the implications of the pandemic today and into the future, and women’s voices being heard in the boardroom.

One attendee commented, “The small breakouts were ideal for allowing substantive discussions.” While another remarked, “A pleasure to be a part of this event. What an array of incredible talent, I always take some new perspectives away from listening to the discussions.”

The virtual setting offered plenty of time for rich, in-depth dialogue and interaction among attendees and special guests. But the action and connections doesn’t stop there. Almost attendees indicated they plan to reach out to one or more of the connections they met at the event. Key to the event’s ROI, we love that networking continues even after our Annual Board Assembly concluded.

The enthralling three-hour experience, graciously sponsored by Troutman Pepper, a firm dedicated to diversity and inclusion, achieving Mansfield Rule 3.0 Plus Certification, is part of WIB’s mission of looking to effect long-lasting change within the corporate boardroom through diversity and gender parity initiatives.

With every single one of attendees indicating they are likely to recommend the experience to friends and colleagues, we plan to host an additional virtual Annual Board Assembly this upcoming November.

Additionally, Doty announced the launch of Women in the Boardroom’s digital platform, “Score Your Board Seat,” A step-by-step guide to support those on their journey to achieve a seat on the board.

For more information about Women in the Boardroom, or to be notified of future events, please reach out to membership@womenintheboardroom.com

Women in The Boardroom’s Antiracist Interview Series; Deborah Elam

Writers at Women in the Boardroom had the opportunity to interview some WIB members to gain insight into their personal and professional experiences and knowledge about antiracism, diversity and inclusion, and equity in the boardroom and corporate settings. We wanted to learn more about what efforts they and their organizations are making to effect change for women and men of color within these organizations and/or how they’ve perceived these changes as women of color.

This week we spoke with Deb Elam, the President & CEO of Corporate Playbook™ and Founder of Dining With Deb™. Corporate Playbook™ provides leaders and organizations with strategic direction to elevate diversity, inclusion, philanthropy and culture in the workplace. Dining With Deb™ is an innovative dining experience that brings together professional women across racial, religious and political lines to drive meaningful connections and conversations.

For 30 years Deb has been a leader and driving force in the world of Diversity & Inclusion; she is one of the country’s foremost experts in the field. Her previous roles include President, GE Foundation; Chief Diversity Officer, GE; Managing Director Human Resources, GE Commercial Finance; Managing Director Human Resources, GE Capital Markets Services; Senior Vice President Human Resources, GE Capital Insurance Services; Vice President Human Resources, GE Capital Mortgage Corporation; Human Resources Manager, GE Consulting and Information Services; and Human Resources Leadership Program (Rotational Assignments).


What is your definition of diversity, inclusion, and equity and how or why do you think diversity is important?

Diversity is appreciating difference. Inclusion is making people feel like they belong. People want to belong and feel welcomed. Equity and equality can, oftentimes, be confused. Finally, equality is by definition “the same”, I am treating you the same. And finally, equity means I am ensuring your opportunity for success is appropriate and it works. Let’s take gardening for example; You could have all tulips in your garden that are all yellow tulips. And that certainly looks lovely but what would be better would be to have pink, yellow, and red tulips, providing a more enhanced view. What might be even better than just having these tulips would be to have tulips, roses, gardenias, and sunflowers. Now, you’ve got a real symphony, a real landscape of flowers. So, the leverage you’ve provided yourself with is that some of those flowers bloom earlier than others, so you will always have a flower providing color to your landscape.

Diversity is having the different flowers. Now, if you’re a good gardener, you know that each one of those flowers requires different sunlight, nutrients, and different amounts of water every day. So, if you’re providing equality, you’re giving each one of those flowers the same nutrients, the same sunlight, and the same amount of water. That’s going to cause some flowers to thrive and some to die. Equity is ensuring they each get exactly what they need to thrive.

Why is a commitment to diversity beneficial to an organization, company, or board?

Diversity breeds innovation. Increasing diversity allows corporations to be more effective in how they do business because of the input by a wider variety of stakeholders. So, even a business that’s doing well could always be doing better by increasing diversity.

How can organizations and boards work to increase diversity?

Well, there are a lot of creative ways to recruit. A great way to increase diversity is to reach out to your current network of employees of color and encourage them to share job opportunities with their network and ask them where they see value in advertising and recruiting. You absolutely have to change the way in which you’re recruiting or you’re going to continue to get the same applicants. You must cast a wider net.

What can individuals do right now to become better allies?

We are all biased, and bias is how we are socialized and how we consume media that informs what our perspective is on something, someone, or some group of people. Issues start to arise when unconscious bias comes in: These are attitudes or stereotypes that impact your actions or decisions unconsciously. Unconscious bias can actually run afoul of what your espoused believes are. So, what I mean by that is that you’re not realizing how you behave. So, you need to check yourself on these biases, understand why you hold those biases and ensure that you’re not acting on them.

What does it mean to you to see others illustrate a commitment to diversity and antiracism?

No one wants to go someplace where they are simply tolerated. We spend a lot of hours in the workplace, so people want to feel like they are contributing and like they’re valued. You need to enable all people to be authentically themselves through positive reinforcement and signaling. You acknowledge and praise them for their authenticity by incenting those behaviors, letting them know their authenticity is valued. It’s about walking towards the talk.

What advice would you give to boards/corporate leaders to actively engage in antiracism consistently and moving forward?

If you want the culture to change, you’ve got to report it, especially if it’s creating a hostile work environment or it’s illegal. Unfortunately, most people leave a workplace because they’re afraid to take on the system. I understand that some people will not have the strength to do this, and it’s unfortunate because companies lose quality employees because of this. One thing everyone can do is to not collude. Colluding is very powerful. Don’t go along with it if someone is saying something off-color or inappropriate. In a workplace, everyone should be held to a standard of conduct. Most of this is not easy because it’s leaning into discomfort and having conversations we’ve never had.

What do you feel is a mistake in organizations thinking about diversity?

Being authentic about their messaging and approaches to diversity, inclusions, antiracism, equity and equality. People can see right through inauthentic messaging and action.

How can organizations promote real change when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and antiracism and end the performative and “feel good” allyship that’s been the standard?

They’ve got to start viewing diversity as a benefit. What I’ve learned post Trayvon Martin is that many of the white people that I worked with at the time, believed that things being alleged, or they saw happening with the police, believed they were happening to people across town, on television, or somewhere else. They were certain that they didn’t actually know anyone who endured this type of abuse or overt racism and that it couldn’t possibly be anyone they were on a conference call with two hours ago. They believe it’s some other group of black people somewhere else.

So, one way to combat these ideas of “otherness” is to have people within the organization share their own experiences. I’ve learned that really shifts the narrative in people’s head, helping them to realize these issues aren’t removed from them. Facilitating these kinds of conversations in a safe and affirming way, in my experience, really brings it home for people and it becomes more personalized, hopefully inspiring individuals to not sit on the sidelines and to do something about it.

What does it take for a company to be authentic when it comes to being antiracist?

Continue the conversation and systematize the conversation. So, for example, one organization I know of has launched a book club on race relation and diversity and inclusion. It’s a very diverse book club in terms of race and gender. You can also launch a discussion series and invite speakers to come and talk with your employees, staff, and leadership.

Why Serve On A Corporate Board?

At Women in the Boardroom, we discuss a lot of the issues and information surrounding board service; the reasons why there aren’t more women serving on corporate boards, branding yourself for board service, why women make great board members, and we also provide valuable techniques, resources, and strategies that c-suite and executive level women need whether they are looking for their 1st, 2nd or 3rd board seat. During these complex times, we felt it important to revisit the very profound but simple question; Why serve on a corporate board?

The below information should help you with your decision:

Intellectual Challenge

Ever heard the saying, “The people around you determine your success?” Having a board seat will expose you to other smart, talented people and challenge you all to work through complex issues that require sharp thinking and deft persuasion. As a director, you’ll learn about industries, products, and services that you may  not have worked in before or be intimately familiar with.

An Enhanced Resume And Reputation

Effective board service involves sophisticated communication skills to influence high-powered peers, enhancing not only your network, but also your reputation as a thought-leader and influencer. Oftentimes, board directors who serve with distinction enjoy access to and recognition from an ever-growing circle of powerful people. As your network grows, so does your motivation to continue to bring the company whose board you’re serving on to the forefront of success. Naturally, All of these skills apply directly back to your day job as well.

A Fulfilling “Second Career”

Some directors serve on boards exclusively, usually after several decades holding management, executive and c-suite level positions. They want to follow a different lifestyle from the day-to-day intensity of an executive job, whether for family, age or other reasons, but still apply their skills in a stimulating way. Although each director might describe the motivation for board service in a different way, nearly all agree that they believe they get more out of every meeting than they give.

It’s Prestigious

Corporate board seats can be scarce, and competition is fierce. But with the right initiative, preparation and guidance, you’ll find yourself being invited to interview. Landing a corporate board seat will signal to your peers that you’re contributing your expertise at the highest level.

Service To Others

As a board director, you’ll be providing guidance and advice to help a company reach its best potential. Good directors get to know the ins and outs of a company, its competitors, they learn about and believe in their products and services, and they carefully guard the interests of stakeholders, helping to maximize that company’s performance. Benefiting the company’s employees and stakeholders is a satisfying way to give back!

Your Time Is Now

Serving on a board will bring you both personal and business benefits. You’ll discover, from an insider’s perspective, how a company conducts business while sitting at the table with extremely smart people from different backgrounds, learning how they approach business, influence decisions, and communicate. And that’s an amazing privilege because having access to this type of knowledge can benefit you by translating well to your career and your current role.

If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, Reach out to me directly!

Sheila Ronning, Founder, Women in the Boardroom.

Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi