Increasing Women on Corporate Boards – by James White

50/50 Women on Boards™ (50/50WOB) is the leading global nonprofit education and advocacy campaign driving the movement toward gender balance and diversity on corporate boards. Since 2010 the campaign has published its 50/50 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index™ directory and research reports to track the gender and racial diversity of Russell 3000 company board directors. Educational programs and advocacy efforts produced by 50/50WOB include its annual Global Conversation on Board Diversity™, year-round board-readiness educational workshops for individuals and corporate groups, and the Networking Hub for alumni to connect to experts and corporate directors in support of their board journey.

I am honored to serve on the selection committee for 50/50 Women on Boards™ (50/50WOB), with its groundbreaking initiative for board service called 50 Women to Watch for Boards. This curated list features highly qualified and diverse female executives across North America who are ready to serve on a public company board.

Diversity and inclusion are essential for good governance, and having more women at the table leads to better decision-making, improved financial performance, and a stronger, more sustainable business. However, it is troubling that according to 50/50’s latest data, women currently hold just 28% of the Russell 3000 company board seats, and only 11% of boards are gender balanced. It is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that women are given equal opportunities to serve in leadership positions.

Addressing systemic racism and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace should be treated as a fundamental business goal, aligned with the idea of business as a force for good. It requires consistent effort on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and must be tracked and measured like any other company objective. Great companies recognize that board diversity is not just a moral imperative, but also a strategic advantage, providing access to new consumer insights, markets, geographies, and more capabilities.

A diverse culture performs better because the more variety you have in thinking and expertise, and the greater the variety of people you have in a room, the more innovation you’ll have, along with better awareness of trends, markets, and risk. Furthermore, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) requirements demand greater oversight and governance of diversity, as well as other issues related to sustainability and ethical practices. I believe there is a growing movement to improve the overall diversity and inclusivity of companies, particularly from a board governance perspective.

Boards and CEOs must take an active role in leadership and governance issues related to improving diversity and ensure that DEI-related topics are managed and delegated effectively. Many CEOs are already leading the way in this work, and I believe this work must be driven by the C-suite because it involves shaping the company culture and cannot be effectively delegated. The Board Chair is responsible for engaging the full board on diversity and the board provides oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion inside the company.   

The “50 Women to Watch for Boards” list, launching in summer of 2023, will provide a comprehensive resource for companies seeking to diversify their boards, making it easier for them to find potential board members. It is a powerful step towards closing the gender gap on corporate boards and promoting diversity and inclusion in the business world. By recognizing the most highly qualified and diverse women, this initiative will help connect companies with a pool of capable and experienced board members and showcase the inspiring achievements of the selected finalists.

James White
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