10 Ideas to get more women to the boardroom

“As the world moves from capitalism into the era of talentism, competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company.  In this new context, the integration of women into the talent pool becomes a must.”

World Economic Forum
, The Global Gender Gap Report 2017

In honor of International Women’s Day, we placed a call to action soliciting suggestions on how companies—and women themselves—can overcome the barriers to diversity in the boardroom.  Not surprisingly, we heard from those most immediately impacted by gender inequality in the boardroom:  women who aspire to serve on boards, those who are board members already, and the professionals who recruit and coach talented women for board service.

These women hold leadership positions across a wide spectrum of Corporate America, representing the cybersecurity, FinTech, IT, education and healthcare industries. They have helped grow successful start-ups, global consulting firms, and enterprises; several have resumes that highlight significant contributions to iconic brands such as PayPal, Adobe, and Cisco. 

At Nasdaq, we have a unique opportunity to begin facilitating solution-oriented conversations that are candid, illuminating and productive.  It is our hope that these conversations spark innovative and practical ideas to help Corporate America harness the intellectual might of its entire talent pool. 

We selected ten submissions to share with you, based on the diversity of thought and creativity of approach to help companies (and women themselves) break through the glass ceiling of Corporate America’s boardrooms.

1. Present board candidates on a blind slate.

“Many people have heard of symphonic tryouts, where candidates are hidden behind a screen so that search committees are forced to listen to the way each musician played a piece without the distraction of visual demographics.  If your company has engaged a search firm, insist that they deliver a “blind” slate that includes 50% non-traditional candidates, initially presented without demographic background or title.  This process adjustment will likely produce a more inclusive finalist list and broaden the perspective on what value the next director can bring.”

Angela Brock-Kyle
Audit Chair of Infinity Property and Casualty Corporation (Nasdaq: IPCC); Trustee of Guggenheim Rydex Funds; Founder and CEO of B.O.A.R.D.S.

2. Standardize a board readiness assessment process.

“Increase the supply of board ready women by developing a standardized board readiness assessment process.  This includes creating a ‘board readiness assessment’ based on company size, business credentials, and qualification criteria; encouraging women executives to take the readiness assessment to identify gaps in the skillsets they need for the boardroom; and establishing mentoring and coaching programs to prepare them for boardroom service.”

Helen Yu
Chief Growth Officer at Clinc; Advisory Board Member at Jebbit and C-Suite Accelerator Program; Founder and CEO at Tigon Advisory Inc.

3. Infuse the board with digital savvy.

“In 2017, 45% of new board openings were filled by first-time board members (up from 32% in 2016), of which 42% were female. This is closer to the 50/50 intake that will eventually lead to parity. I believe one of the drivers behind this increasing appetite for first-timers on boards is that disruptive technology (in particular AI) is creating an opportunity for visionary leaders to embrace digitization and apply it to their business models. Boards need to consider adding members fluent in innovation, digitization, leading change and envisioning the future of work. Many of these leaders are women, currently in the leadership teams of transformational companies across all industries.”

Marcia Morales-Jaffe
Senior Advisor at McKinsey & Company; Industry Advisor at BetterWorks; former Chief People Officer at PayPal

4. Take risks and seek opportunities to visibly solve problems for businesses and industries.

“I believe more executive women should take more risks in solving problems within their current businesses and industries.  The vast majority of my peers—women who serve on public company boards—share that they achieved their first board position because a CEO or board member had seen them in action: speaking at a conference, assuming a highly visible leadership role in professional organization, or making a name for themselves by contributing excellent work in their current companies.”

Caren Merrick
Board Member of Gladstone Companies (Nasdaq: GLAD, GAIN, GOOD, LAND) and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

5. Expand the definition of “talent pool.”

“What’s going to overcome the barrier of the ‘shallow pool’ misperception is an expanded definition of the board-ready talent pool.  There are roles within organizations that may not have the scope of the CEO, but that can best serve the needs of the organization, such as engineer, CIO, CTO, CMO, etc.  The emphasis should be on diversity of skillset, beyond gender or race.”

Karen Walker
SVP & Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Systems, Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

6. Add advisory role positions to corporate boards.

“The pipeline of qualified women candidates for boards can be increased by adding advisory roles to the board, with a focus on technology, cybersecurity, and disruptive business models.  Bringing up female leaders who are one to two levels down from the CEO will also augment the pipeline of available women candidates for recruitment.”

Meerah Rajavel
Chief Information Officer at Forcepoint

7. Establish “three women on the board” as a corporate governance best practice.

“While much focus in the past has been placed on increasing the percentage of female directors, another approach would be to focus on the absolute number. Research by Harvard Business Review in 2006 revealed that: ‘A clear shift occurs when boards have three or more women. At that critical mass, women tend to be regarded by other board members not as “female directors” but simply as directors, and they don’t report being isolated or ignored.’ Recommendation of a ‘three women’ benchmark by authoritative governance entities . . . could be a catalyst for increasing the number of women appointed to boards.”

K. Sue Redman
Advisory Board Member of GreenFig; Former Audit Committee Chair and Board Member of Apollo Education Group; President of Redman Advisors; Executive Professor at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University

8. Give female candidates on the board slate an “at bat” with a governance committee interview.

“Last year, several of the world’s largest institutional shareholders—including BlackRock Inc.State Street Global AdvisorsVanguard Group, and New York City Pension Funds—announced their intent to hold boards accountable for insufficient gender representation.   Having these big index funds pushing gender diversity is going to be a huge pressure point and accelerant for progress, so I expect big changes this year.  Companies can take proactive action to include high caliber, new directors who bring cognitive diversity to the boardroom by insisting that their governance committees include a minimum of 35% (but ideally 50%) of female candidates on the board search slate—and include those women in the interview process after pairing down the first pass slate. If governance committees meet these very capable potential colleagues, I’m confident we will see a significant uptick in women in the boardroom.”

Betsy Atkins
Board Member, Lead Director and Governance Chair at HD Supply Holdings, Inc. (Nasdaq: HDS); Board Member at Schneider Electric and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corporation (Nasdaq: CTSH); President and Chief Executive Officer at Baja Corp.

9. Establish apprenticeships for corporate boards.

“Mandate that each public board have two apprentice positions that are filled by women who are qualified but don’t have board experience yet.  The selected women will hold these roles for 1-2 years.  The board apprentice roles wouldn’t have voting rights, but participate in all the board meetings, observing and gaining first-hand experience.  Apprentices would also get up to two hours per quarter of one-one coaching with members of the board.  The advantage of this approach to the board is a low-cost, low-pressure way to become acquainted with talented women and exposed to diversity in the boardroom.  It also builds a pipeline of qualified board candidates for the company.  For the female apprentices, this approach builds confidence and increases the attractiveness of their candidacy for various board positions.”

Vijaya Kaza
Chief Development Officer at Lookout, Inc.

10. Broaden and deepen the board’s networks.

“For those board directors who are ‘stuck’ in their networks, I would encourage them to move away from an ‘inside out’ approach that assumes their next great board director is already in their professional network. We can all be guilty of staying in our own bubble, but those who have the courage to take an ‘outside in’ approach to developing a high-performing board will be richly rewarded with one that is dynamic and productive.  The prescription for boards is quite simple: create broader and deeper networks that will ultimately improve the long-term value of the companies and stakeholders they serve.  There are now networks like the Athena Alliance and theBoardlist that offer tailored services for boards to find women executives who are ready, and actively searching, for directorships. Furthermore, almost every traditional executive recruitment firm now has a diversity practice to help find fresh candidates who can enrich boards.”

Leilani C. Latimer
VP Global Marketing, Partnerships & Commercial Operations at Zephyr Health

Nasdaq thanks each of these talented women for sharing their ideas and empowering women to serve in the boardrooms of Corporate America.  We also thank Coco Brown of the Athena Alliance, who inspired this article with her uniquely insightful and balanced perspective on this issue.

Please help us continue this important conversation by writing to us at [email protected] with your own thoughts and ideas about improving gender balance in the boardroom.

For more information, read 5 Barriers to Gender Parity in the Boardroom.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the contributors at the time of publication and may not be updated. They do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc. The content does not attempt to examine all the facts and circumstances which may be relevant to any particular company, industry or security mentioned herein and nothing contained herein should be construed as legal or investment advice.

Revitalize Banner