By Lerzan Aksoy
Why is it that the majority of corporate boards are mostly male? Why do women only constitute 15% of company board seats of Fortune 500 companies, even though women offer valuable insight and skills that those companies need?
Think about what women bring to the table.
Women “represent.” Companies are discovering the increased power of women in the consumer space. Women often are the ones who decide what to purchase for their households. Globally, they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending. In the U.S. alone, women are responsible for $4.3 trillion in consumer spending, which far outpaces the $1.6 trillion controlled by men. It seems glaringly obvious that having women on boards can help companies make decisions that are far more relevant to their consumer base.
Women boost performance. Companies with the most women on their boards perform 53% better than companies with the least number of female directors. The women’s business group Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on the board gain a significant performance advantage over those with the fewest on several financial performance measures.
Women bring key skills. Women invest more in developing portable, external relationships with clients and outside contacts than men do, according to a 2010 Harvard Business School report on women executives.
Findings of the landmark Ipsos Loyalty study showed that women also surpass men in both relationship problem-coping styles, giving them advantages in team building, big-picture thinking, flexibility, inclusion, and getting people aligned behind new initiatives, among other skills.
More importantly, what can women do?
Let’s face it: Women are usually not in the same networks as men. The men who make board appointments tend to search for candidates within their own networks, and because these are generally male-centric, women tend not to be considered. What’s more, many companies are not developing multifaceted efforts to get women into the pipeline that flows up into the executive suite and boardroom.
How do we get more women into the pipeline that feeds the boardroom talent pool? There are some great examples out there that can serve as models for executive women to emulate in their own work environments.
For example, the DirectWomen Board Institute created by the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section [http://www.abanet.org/buslaw/directwomen] helps prepare women lawyers for boardrooms—a unique opportunity if you happen to be a top female attorney.
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has a program called the Women’s Leadership Initiative, which brings together female employees from around the world, offering them peer coaching, leadership training, networking, mentoring, and other services.
Campbell Soup offers networking and professional development through the company’s Women of Campbell affinity network. This is a network that exists in more than a dozen countries, including Australia and China. Campbell’s also embraces certain business practices, such as allowing female employees to embark on short-term overseas assignments so that they can broaden their experiences without making a permanent move or major life upheaval.
Women in leadership need to create the opportunities to share knowledge and expertise with other women at all levels in their organization on a regular basis – thereby growing the female talent pool and building women’s networks. It’s up to women to find ways to empower more women in more ways—because men aren’t necessarily going to do it for us.
Lerzan Aksoy is an expert in the science of loyalty measurement and management, and Associate Professor of Marketing at Fordham University in New York City. She was recognized as the top young scientist of 2007 in Turkey by the Junior Chamber International (TOYP Award for Scientific Leadership). She is coauthor, with Timothy Keiningham, of Why Loyalty Matters, and co-architect of the landmark Ipsos Loyalty Study, the most comprehensive study of loyalty ever conducted.