The energizing discussion at Clearing the Path in Boston on June 11 produced many frank opinions. Participants shared their successes and frustrations. Captured below are some takeaways drawn from the personal experience of CEOs who were in the room.
| Women on Boards – suggestions and best practices
- The commitment must come from the CEO.
Encourage CEOs to think less about correct titles (“needs to be a CEO”) and more about functional diversity. Make sure you have all the appropriate skills needed by looking for candidates at the VP and COO level, one level down from the usual search.
One CEO made a rule – all his management team must mentor three people who don’t look like them.
Make diversity a value for the organization. Do this by talking to leadership about how important openness is to the future of the organization.
The CEO must insist on this priority. Otherwise, everyone says yes, but when it gets hard, progress stops.
In board searches, seek competencies, not titles. What is the right composition? Would unusual competencies help? (Artist? Engineer?)
- States should consider legislation similar to Europe, though perhaps not binding, setting goals for women on boards.
- When hiring firms to work for your company, ask about women on their boards. Tell them this is important to you.
- When there is an opening either for board or management, require that there be a qualified woman and a qualified minority person in the finalist pool. Don’t settle for who applies – this rule makes you go out and look for candidates.
- Publicize the work of people who are getting it right. Use the pitch, “This is how you make yourself stronger. We must use all the talent available to succeed.”
- Investors should ask why there are no women on boards, and make sure some are found.
- Shareholders should be active in voting against slates with no women, and tell the companies why. Urge proxy-holders to use their voice for this.
- Communications firms: bring up the issue when working with clients, if you are in a position to do so.
- Use census data to set a target against the corporate structure. Having such a target requires white men to network in new places, which may not be so comfortable for them. Build your bench, in order to have resources down the road. Build your outside pipeline.
- Begin by coaching young women onto non-profit boards and startup boards for experience.
- The power position on a board is in nominating. Use that power. Report at every meeting on progress.
- Create public rankings for board gender percentage – visibility equals accountability.
- Encourage public discussion of controversial ideas. Should there be quotas? Should we use shareholder activism?
- Ask board members to commit to mentoring sessions with talented women, as part of their board time.
- Start a mentoring program for upper management to work with junior talent.
- Hold a meeting in the company for women only, to discuss women’s leadership – then hold a meeting with everyone to share women’s thinking on the subject.
- Many venture capitalists have hired talent partners who work full time on finding talent for their companies. Network with them to look for board members.
- Look for women in your network who don’t seem like obvious choices, and ask for their help finding candidates, or suggestions on where to look.
- When adding women to a board, consider increasing board size in order to be able to add more than one at once.
| Gender Wage Gap – suggestions and best practices
- How do we get people to look at the problem? Deciding what constitutes a gap is a very technical problem. Data is required.
- One board member made a president look at the data for the organization and said, “Do we have a problem here?”
- There must be transparency in compensation to even begin the process of addressing the gap.
- Open discussion of compensation issues contributes to retention.
- Boards must agree that fixing the gap is an organizational necessity, for the future of the company. Board members must ask questions to open up the discussion.
- Have quarterly board meetings to look at the pipeline for board and management.
- Communicate your views with elected officials. Support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
- Boston Business Journal could have a section that publicizes gender wage gap data by company. Also, add “diversity” to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s “dashboard.” Publicize it.
- Train women in networking and negotiating. College presidents can play a role in this. Mentors can use the book The Confidence Code for training.
- Hold compensation reviews using outside data. Benchmark! And be sure to slice your pay data demographically: women of color are paid the least.
- Be mindful of internal symbolism – use it. For example, think creatively about your titles.