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GWSB and IWF Launch On The Board: Advancing Women’s Corporate Board Leadership

Broadcast journalist Andrea Roane introduces the inaugural class of On The Board fellows at the launch event for the program.

Broadcast journalist Andrea Roane introduces the inaugural class of On The Board fellows at the launch event for the program.

OnTheBoardOver the weekend, GWSB, in partnership with the International Women’s Forum (IWF), launched a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, globally focused fellowship program for the world’s top female executives.  A daylong launch event featured global experts discussing how to break down barriers to women’s advancement in corporate governance.

“There are few areas that are more important than the one we are addressing today,” said Dean Doug Guthrie at the Feb. 21 launch event. “And we are hopefully going to continue with this far into the future.”

On The Board is designed as a training and advocacy program for women business executives who are prime candidates to serve as directors on corporate boards.  Women’s representation on boards has been stalled for a decade at around 16 percent. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 corporate directors are men older than 70 who are heading for retirement, presenting a prime opportunity to prepare qualified women executives to occupy those seats.

The launch introduced the inaugural class of 15 On The Board fellows as they arrived in Washington, D.C., for the first training module.  Other sessions are scheduled for July and November. The program is primarily funded through a gift from GW Trustee Linda Rabbitt, founder and CEO of *rand Construction Corporation and an IWF member.

Rabbitt said she had an epiphany about working to right the gender imbalance on boards when, at a Washington Business Journal event last year, she found herself to be one of just two women among many male CEOs and directors.

“That evening, I decided to be part of the solution,” said Rabbitt.

Deedee Corradini, the IWF president, said the On The Board program will help businesses as they face the demands of a changing global marketplace and intensifying investor pressure to diversify their boards.

IWF President Deedee Corradini and Dean Doug Guthrie listen to a panel discussion during the On The Board launch event.

IWF President Deedee Corradini and Dean Doug Guthrie listen to a panel discussion during the On The Board launch event.

“The project we launch today is part of the revolution and the solution,” she said.

Experts who spoke at the launch agreed that businesses and societies stand to benefit from having more women in directors’ seats. But there are different ways to achieve that result.

“Corporations do get the business angle:  if you have more perspectives, you get more solutions,” said Beth A. Brooke, Ernst & Young’s global vice chair of public policy. Even so, they don’t tend to aggressively bring women into directors’ roles unless they’re forced, she said.

“Without the threat of pressure, the pace is too anemic,” Brooke said. The European Union, for instance, has proposed a directive that member states require companies to bring women’s corporate board representation up to 40 percent by 2020 or face penalties.

Brooke also said that male CEOs should take a greater role in actively promoting their senior women executives for seats on boards.

Susan Vinnicombe, director of the International Center for Women’s Leadership and professor of organizational behavior and diversity management at England’s Cranfield School of Management, suggested that U.S. corporations impose term limits on directorships, so board seats open up more frequently. Now, directors can serve indefinitely.

“It’s appalling in the United States that you don’t have term limits,” she said. “That’s a really significant barrier.” She also said that women shouldn’t be viewed as less qualified than men because their careers have different trajectories.

“For many women, their careers don’t look like men’s careers, but that doesn’t mean they are not as good,” Vinnicombe said. “We have to open up and break those stereotypes.”

Andrea Roane, news anchor for WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, moderated panel discussions. Experts took part via webcasts from around the world, including from Mexico, South Africa, Singapore and Germany.

Posted by gwsb on February 26, 2013 | Filed under: GWSB News.


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