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"Because I Dare" - Women on Boards


As women flooded the "Women on Boards Bootcamp" sessions at the Women's Forum which took place in Deauville this week, I could not help but reflect that the pool of women candidates willing to sit on boards was indeed rich, diverse, and experienced."Because I dare" could best summarize the discussions - and the general mood: women need to take a much more aggressive approach if they want to set foot in the boardroom. They need to gain self confidence to seek out those board positions, leverage their relevant experiences in governance, and stop to be simply waiting for the opportunities to be presented to them.

Three main themes emerged from the discussion:


The landscape is slowly structuring

Recruitment firms such as Spencer Stuart are setting the tone and aiming to place on European and US boards women candidates, provided that they fill one of two criteria: they either have to be currently in a position as the CEO or business unit president with P &L experience, or have held a position as the CFO of a public company.

Associations are aiming to strengthen the formal and informal networks. For example, the Women Corporate Directors association appears to now be the major player worldwide. Unlike the National Association of Corporate Directors in the United States, which has built its own glass ceiling by allowing only women currently on boards to throw in their hat in the arena and provide their profile into their database, the WCD opens up its doors to would-be directors, and through 38 chapters is now actively building the network

Strong women advocates and role models are emerging: Veronique Morali, for example, chairman of Fimalac Developpement, the parent company of the international financial services organization, Fitch Group and is currently sitting on the boards of Havas, Publicis group, Coca-Cola Enterprises and LCF Rothschild group. She founded with an objective of promoting the voice of women in business. Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission, has threatened to enforce quotas in the European boardrooms if companies do not act.

There is an increasing awareness that women need to help each other: women already on boards can suggest female candidates when board positions vacancies open up.


Talented pools are slowly emerging

Latin American family companies will be able to provide their daughters, grand-daughters and nieces, often educated in the United States, who are currently sitting on the boards of the family-owned companies. This second or third generation has often inherited companies that were ill governed. When the economic crisis stroke, they have built solid experience in change management and difficult turnarounds.

International executives are likely to be uniquely positioned to capture the few opportunities available. Indeed, in France for example, most recent women appointments on boards of French companies have been filled by international executives. One reason offered is that French women shy away from the quota system and are reluctant to accept a position: " I do not want to be a quota", thus loosing the opportunity to be a player.


Richness of opportunities are still been overlooked

What was missing from the discussion was the richness of the opportunities. As recruiters are grooming and courting the  Fortune 500 public companies, there are countless startups, family companies, foundations where the strategic and growth challenges and rich and varied - and where the room of action for a woman executive is broader. "Women naturally think about CAC 40 companies, but that isn't the right strategy," added Veronique Morali.

Susan Stautberg, the co-founder of the Women Corporate Directors suggested women anchor with organizations such as the International Finance Corporation ( IFC). The organization is uniquely positioned as it finances over 250 companies a year, and has to fill an equivalent number of seats ach year - roughly the equivalent of the entire number of board members rotating in all the US Fortune500 boards each year ( According to Julie Hembrock Daum, managing Spencer Stuart's North American Board and CEO Practice, only 272 board positions opened up last year)

I missed the discussion on non profit boards - probably as those were underrepresented in the audience. Social entrepreneurs, foundations offer very rich opportunities to combine the skill set of executives and the ability to tackle the worlds crucial challenges- a more rewarding task that most of the corporate missions.


There is still much room for improvement

The audit committee is viewed as the golden key to the boardroom door- the role as a board member who is part of the audit committee is often more time consuming and seem to be harder to staff. I was however taken aback by what seems to be ill placed advice: Molly Ashby, chairman and CEO of Solera Capital suggested women joined their local school board audit committee as a way to "learn the ropes" and enhance the resume of a board candidate. Having sat through many nominating committees discussions, I strongly suspect this type of experience will not get a candidate very far on the road to public or private boards...

It seems to me there are many other avenues for women candidates to board positions to differentiate themselves. Expertise in social media, new technologies for example, will be required as companies slowly will seek to understand the profound impact the technology will have on their business.


Estelle Metayer is hired by boards as they tackle and identify their strategic blindspots. An Adjunct professor with McGill University, and a guest lecturer at IMD in Switzerland in many of their leadership programs, she teaches in the certification program for directors with the Institute of Canadian Directors in Canada. Her international career spans three continents, from the Netherlands to Canada, including Poland, the United Kingdom and South Africa. She began her career with the ING Bank in emerging markets and McKinsey & Company. She sat in the boards of World Youth Canada and the Grands Ballets Canadiens.


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  • Posted by Estelle Metayer said:

    18/10/2011 11:43pm (8 years ago) Arlene, thank you for your comments, I am glad this inspired you to take action. Let me know when this panel with BPW will take place, I will be happy to mention it to women in Canada who might benefit !

  • Posted by Arlene Jorgenson said:

    18/10/2011 6:10pm (8 years ago) I find your summary very inspiring. As a member of Business and Professional Women Canada which seeks economic, political and social equality for women, it it interesting to think of ways to mentor women to take on the influence of being on boards.

  • Posted by Arlene Jorgenson said:

    18/10/2011 2:33pm (8 years ago) Very interesting! As a member of Business and Professional Women's Organization International which promotes financial, political, workplace and social equality for women, I am most intrigued by the idea that women can benefit from opportunities like this to be mentored on how to be better board members. Using networking, mentoring, coaching, training opportunities to seek out and learn how to use the influence of a board position is just one more way in which to use our talents and influence to make better collective decisions for our businesses, organizations, communities, families and our country. This comment has inspired me to set up a panel discussion at a BPW meeting on this topic which will hopefully lead to further training/mentoring opportunities for leadership in this area.

  • Posted by Suki Fuller said:

    18/10/2011 5:16am (8 years ago) I was following yours and others tweeting during the forum and this write up is much appreciated. Along with the forum being highly inspirational so is this post, especially for those of us not in attendance. Many thanks.

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