Women in Boardroom

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MIT Sloan’s Women in Management Conference held a panel around the fact that only 16% of Fortune 500 board seats are filled by women. Panelists included Lisa Carnoy (Global Co-head of Capital Markets for Bank of America and mother of four kids), Jean Hammond (Golden Seeds Co-Founder & Venture Capitalist), and Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Director of Miss Representation and mother of two kids).

How do we get more women to serve on boards?

If you own stock, Jean suggests voting your proxy and refusing to re-elect all male boards. (The California State Teachers’ Retirement System recently expressed their concern with Facebook for choosing an all male board.) The panel was asked if we should set quotas like the Netherlands has? Lisa says that we should encourage company leaders to publicly set their own goals for board diversity. She also recommends that we change how we look for board members. Many board members are chosen through personal networks or search committees.

3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are Women

These few high profile women are asked to serve on hundreds of boards. Lisa cites historical hiring practices of existing board members hiring more men like them. She suggests that women need to pursue board memberships by talking to existing board members and making their interest clear. Jean suggests starting on the boards of smaller companies like start-ups and non-profits.

How Can You Get On A Fortune 1000 Board?

You are probably going to go through a head hunter for those positions but you might get on the short list through serving on a non-profit board says Jean. Being at the top of your current company or starting your own company is also vital.

How Do We Get More Women in the C-Suite?

It was generally agreed on by the panelists that women are judged more harshly and have to be even better than their male peers to rise to the top. Lisa cites working for months without days off and being on conference calls after delivering twins. Her epiphany was realizing that her boss couldn’t read her mind and that if there was something she wanted she had to ask for it. Jean encourages women to start their own companies to create the best working environment for themselves. The next topic was how women can help each other and the conclusion was mentorship.

How Can I Find A Mentor or Sponsor?

Mentorship and sponsorships of women by leaders of all genders is very important says Jennifer. Jean says you can start looking for a mentor by just asking leaders to have a conversation with you about something they have experience in. Everyone is really busy but if you show them that you value their advice, they’ll make the time. Jennifer reminds the audience to have three well-organized questions for your potential mentor and then send a hand-written thank you note afterwards.

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