Sukhinder Singh Cassidy On Gender Diversity in the Boardroom
By Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
It is 2016, yet it will take four decades for corporate boards in the U.S. to achieve gender balance. That is if women and men started joining boards at an equal rate beginning today, according to a report last month from the Government Accountability Office. Even if every available board seat moving forward was filled by a woman, boards would not reach parity until 2024.
It's a staggering report with sobering implications for U.S. companies, CEOs, investors — and of course, professional women. But it’s a fact we can change. The question is - what industry has the luxury to approach change with a four-decade plan? And, what business leader would accept such a timeline?
Since the report was published, some have noted the disparity reflects a lack of qualified female candidates. But contrary to popular belief, there is a pipeline of women in business who are prepared to step into leadership positions NOW. At theBoardlist, we see no shortage of highly qualified, diverse candidates for boards. We have been building a curated marketplace to connect qualified professional women with board opportunities through a project I founded last year. In six months’ time, over 1,000 board-ready women have been endorsed by more than 200 CEOs, investors and leaders for private and public tech company boards.
Today, we are formally launching this resource at theboardlist.com. Our goal is to provide a solution — as a community, for our community — to accelerate business performance by improving gender diversity in the boardroom. We invite companies and board members to join this important mission. Our intent is to empower both CEOs seeking board talent and professional women seeking board opportunities.
Women on theBoardlist have distinguished themselves as founders, leaders, innovators, strategists and operators, and are well-qualified to apply their experience and expertise at the board level. Their expertise is broad and diverse — 25% have at least 1 STEM degree, over 40% have MBA’s and another quarter of the community have other post-baccalaureate degrees including PhD’s, JD’s and even MD’s. Over 35% have already served on a board, and of those who have served — they have on almost 3 boards under their belt.
And the value of their experience is backed up by mounting evidence of the benefits of gender diverse boards. According to a recent report from MSCI World, companies with at least 3 women on their boards have achieved a 36% better return on equity since 2010 than those companies with fewer or no women on the board. And Harvard Business School professors Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone recently found that increasing the number of women on a team also increases its collective intelligence. These are just two findings that exist among reams of data pointing to gender diversity as a driver of improved business performance.
But the data and pipeline of qualified women are only two pieces of a complex journey to building an effective board. There need to be proactive efforts on the part of boards and CEOs to seek independent directors and source diverse slates of candidates. This is why I’m asking CEOs and board members to reflect on their own board composition and ask, "Is my board as strong as it could be? What talent and perspectives are missing?"
Asking these simple questions is a first and critical step to building stronger companies that leverage all of the available talent in the marketplace. And, in doing so, unveils opportunities for diverse candidates of all types, including women, to contribute and succeed at the highest levels in our ecosystem. It’s truly a win-win.
During the Davos World Economic Forum, CEOs from 10 global companies — including Barclays, Twitter and Unilever, just to name a few — agreed to make public the number of women who serve on the board, with a commitment to achieving gender parity by 2020. This ambitious commitment, led by U.N. Women’s HeForShe program, exemplifies the kind of stake I hope every CEO considers putting into the ground.
The timing to make internal changes will be different for every company, but the commitment to source diverse talent can happen right now. theBoardlist offers a ready platform to champion exceptional women for leadership. Its value starts by helping leaders discover diverse board candidates in a secure, high-trust environment, and continues when leaders make that connection to build a diverse pipeline, and bring new perspectives into the boardroom.
I'm confident that we, as an industry and as individual operators, can do better. Our companies are fueled by talent and built to perform; we can beat the GAO’s prediction, if we only #choosepossibility.