Nearly 60 alums from Yale College (including a member of the class of 1971, the first class of women to graduate from Yale College, and a graduate of the class of 2016) and the Graduate & Professional Schools engaged in a lively conversation, Access & Impact of Women on Corporate Boards, on September 22nd in Cambridge, MA.
Hosted by YaleWomen, Yale Boston, the Yale Black Alumni Association Boston chapter, the Yale School of Management Alumni Association Boston chapter, and the Yale Alumni Association, the event was developed by Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans ’90 JD, CEO of The Barthwell Group, and Mindy Marks ’00, AYA Director of Shared Interest Groups. Akosua moderated the panel discussion among Gordon B. Fowler, Jr., President and CEO of Glenmede, Dr. Reatha Clark King, Immediate Past Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Corporate Directors, and Brande Stellings ’89, Vice President of Corporate Board Services at Catalyst.
The economic landscape is shifting: more than half the US population and nearly half of all American workers are female. Women hold more than half of all professional-level jobs and earn more than half of all undergraduate and master’s degrees. In its whitepaper, Adding Value with a Gender Investment Lens, Glenmede notes that in 2014 the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies topped 5% for the first time; there were none in 1994.
In its 2015 Census, Catalyst reported that while “some US companies are prioritizing board diversity—building it into the fabric of their key talent decision-making—they still have a long way to go before women’s representation on their boards and throughout their executive ranks is near parity with men.” Women held just under 20% of S&P 500 board seats; for women of color, this number is 3%. Women held only 26.9% of S&P 500 new directorships.
In spite of research findings that provide evidence of the correlation between female leadership and financial performance, the needle is moving slowly at both the board level and in the pipeline for women officers and directors. Men continue to be overrepresented and women are nowhere near the path to parity with men. Exacerbating the problem is the low turnover on director seats resulting from the lack of age and term limits, dropouts resulting from mergers and acquisitions, complacency and stagnation. The successes of the deliberate bold actions that Canada, Australia and several European countries have taken to achieve gender diversity are drawing attention to and interest in the change needed in the US.
In addition to pursuing such traditional paths to corporate boards as working with search firms, the panel emphasized that, as with job searches, especially for women whose career paths are often characterized as having “discontinuities” related to decisions made about family, it’s about: reaching out and building relationships; seeking out connections and opportunities with a broad range of people, including at seminars and conferences; stepping out of your comfort zone, and developing and using your networks, including professional associations as well as such groups as the Boston Club, which is a community of women executives and professional leaders in the Northeast dedicated to advancing women leaders. Serving on nonprofit boards offers a different path, not for the governance experience per se, but for the connections to other directors and their connections.