Women in the Boardroom (WIB), a leading global organization committed to advancing senior-level executive women into corporate boardrooms, released today the results of its inaugural survey Nevertheless, She Persisted: The Challenges and Opportunities Experienced by Senior-level Executive Women as They Journey to the Boardroom. The results revealed that women are motivated by the challenge of corporate board service and frustrated with the process of securing a board seat.
Despite the challenges to securing a seat at the table, women are resolute in pursuing corporate board service. Seventy percent of women surveyed consider board service a top career priority, and 62% feel confident that they will get a board seat and feel prepared to serve.
“While the obstacles to securing a board seat are many, success is achievable,” said Sheila Ronning, CEO and founder of WIB. “More than 25% of respondents are already corporate board directors. Persistence, organization and preparation in pursuing a board seat are what set these women apart. They are highly successful in their careers and demonstrate a high-achievement mindset to their ambitions in the boardroom.”
More women need to show up, stand up and speak up
Part of the challenge in getting more female executives on corporate boards is qualified women identifying themselves as available for a board seat in the first place. Eighty-six percent of respondents feel that many women qualified for board service do not realize that board service is an option for them. Only 34% of respondents agree that women advocate for other women to find corporate board seats.
“More women need to throw their hat in the ring and put in the work to market themselves as great candidates for board seats.”
“More women need to throw their hat in the ring and put in the work to market themselves as great candidates for board seats,” said Diane Souza, a Sanofi board director and former CEO of UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits. “Organizations can help by finding board directors willing to mentor and serve as role models to interested candidates. This could inspire more qualified women to bring their talents, expertise and unique perspectives to benefit boards and companies.”
Male networks dominate board searches
Networking is widely acknowledged to be the key to a seat at the table. However, 90% of women feel that male networks dominate corporate board searches and 60% agree that male networks function more effectively than female networks, placing women at a double disadvantage.
The obscurity surrounding the process of attaining a board seat presents yet another challenge. More than three-quarters (76%) of women feel that the method of board appointments is opaque and mysterious in comparison to the usual professional career-advancement process.
Nevertheless, 61% of women have found their networks helpful and 55% have found help from mentors or sponsors. Unable to rely on inbound opportunities that serve men through male networks, many women are proactive in pursuing board seats – they have a plan, invest time into their search and network with valuable mentors, sponsors and contacts.
The case for gender diversity is still being made
Women’s frustration with the board search process is further compounded by a perceived lack of universal acknowledgement that gender diversity at the board level is good for business. Only 50% of women believe that gender diversity in the boardroom is broadly understood to be a business asset. When reflecting about their own employers, 43% report that gender diversity in the boardroom is embraced in principle, but only 16% report that their company has gender diversity in the boardroom as a stated priority with standards, goals and a plan.
“Now is the time for corporations to create a culture within their organizations that prioritizes, not just talks about, gender diversity,” said Shirley Weis, president of Weis Associates, LLC, and Sentry Insurance board director. “Communicating board openings to and educating women on the path to board service are crucial. The earlier in women’s careers we begin encouraging them to consider board service, the more female board directors we’ll see in the future.”
Regardless of the hurdles, women are confident the number of female board directors will increase. As more women secure CEO and CFO roles, 76% of women believe more women will serve on boards. Enforcing term limits is also seen as benefitting female candidates, with 65% of women agreeing that they will enable more qualified women to enter the boardroom.
“Even though we have much more work to do in achieving gender parity on corporate boards, I’m encouraged that so many have identified board service as a professional goal and that resources are available to facilitate their success,” said Margaret Whelan, founder and CEO of Whelan Advisory, LLC, and TopBuild board director. “It takes more time and effort than most candidates realize, but staying determined and focused ultimately leads to triumph.”
WIB surveyed more than 500 women who identified as interested in board service or who are already serving as corporate board directors. Respondents ranged in age from their 30s to 80s and represent industries including consumer, financial services, healthcare, industrial, government and education.
The survey was open from March 7, 2017 through March 19, 2017. Respondents were recruited through the Women in the Boardroom network of senior-level executives and their networks, and were invited via social posts on LinkedIn and Facebook, through the WIB LinkedIn group, and the WIB email database. No geographical restrictions were placed on participation and no geographical data was collected. The survey was conducted only in English.