CEOs Explain How They Gender-Balanced Their Boards  

4 December 2017:

For the first time in eight years, the percent of women on U.S. corporate boards declined last year. Despite more evidence about the benefits of the increasing the number women on boards (such as better decision making), and mounting pressure from groups like State Street Global Advisers and Blackrock to do so, the data suggest it will take until the end of 2055 to have board parity in the U.S. if we continue at the current rate.

This is where CEOs can help. Board appointments are highly influenced by CEOs, and they can do a better job of advocating for getting more women on the board. Fortunately, some are leading the way.

We interviewed CEOs who successfully reached board parity to learn how they did it. We recruited our sample from the 36 companies in the S&P500 that have at least 40% women board directors. We interviewed 15 CEOs and one board member who served as the “nomination and governance chair” from these companies. The companies in the sample had an average of 49.8% women on their boards.

We asked these “Champions” three simple questions: what are the benefits of board gender parity, why don’t other CEOs take these steps, and how did you do it? We also surveyed 20 of their board members about their reactions to serving on a more gender diverse board. In addition to these leaders, I spoke with six CEOs, along with one “nomination and governance chair,” from companies in the S&P 500 with boards made of 20% female directors, to compare how their perspectives were different.

The Champions* said that in their experience, most CEOs and board members fail to take the actions needed to increase gender diversity because of fear of change or risk of failure. This reminded us of the psychological concept of “regulatory focus,” which suggests people pursue goals in one of two ways: people with a strong “promotion” focus are motivated by what they have to gain, while people with a strong “prevention” focus are motivated to protect what they might lose.

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Source: Harvard Business Review

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