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Ioana Bota

Women on Boards: political correctness or invaluable asset?

Only 19.2% of the S[&]P 500 companies have female directors. Wasted potential: companies with women on their boards have a return on equity that is up to 36% percent better than that of their peers. Here is why it’s time to break windows.

Chances are high you have already heard of the glass ceiling effect. It is "the unseen yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder" regardless of their qualifications or achievements, the US Department of Labor explains. The concept might have appeared the 1980s, but is still applicable today. The idea of a glass ceiling effect came up in a world where careers were vertical. Employees would stay with their company all their lives. That was a world where women advanced only slowly in their careers, often never making it to the top. And, as it happens, many companies remained frozen in time. Catalyst found only 19.2% of the S[&]P 500 companies have women on their boards and questions the true length of the progress made so far. In those other 80% of the companies mentioned in the study, women who are not part of boardrooms, will most likely simply fade in.

The good news is that another theory is shaping up, one with better prospects for career women: the ‘broken windows’ approach. The concept of broken windows introduces the idea that small acts, which appear harmless, eventually lead to bigger and more impactful acts. In the new paradigm, women who come to perceive their career advancement as a missed opportunity leave. This is of greater concern when it comes to women on Boards. Not only that these exceptional women quit, taking their talents, their network, and their strengths with them, but their absence also disrupts the process of taking diverse strategic decisions. With less and less women taking the lead, Boards can no longer be exceptional. 

Truth be told, boardroom jobs are not for everyone: Women who want to become part of a Board follow two paths, with different results. In most cases, all they do is professionally conform. Then the only thing they offer back is no more than the expected conformity. Only those women representing the 19.2% from the S[&]P 500 companies get to be on management position and in boardrooms. These few women are outspoken and actually contribute to decision-making.

For women, leadership comprises snowballing into boardrooms crowded with male decision-makers. This means that the shortfall of women role models at top levels discourages women lower down the ladder*. But women should not be discouraged and accept the challenge. The dare for richer boards (and more successful companies) is twofold: Male counterparts need to be proactive and inspire female Board Members in progressing. As for women themselves, self-confidence is a must. Women need to actively promote themselves and cultivate their skills as decision-takers. And, last but not least, they need to persevere in order to reach board positions. Even small companies can adopt the trend: Sherpany already has a female President of the Board, Nicole Herzog. Ultimately, as Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘You can’t lead from the crowd’.

The cat is out of the bag, and it is no surprise. Women leaders may decide to become self-employed entrepreneurs. They will 'make it' on their own terms. Women will choose a path that leads them to success.

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