Contributed by Heather Cassell
Nora Denzel is very happy with her new seat on the board of directors of Overland Storage, a San Diego-based data storage company, she says.
Denzel, Senior Vice President of payroll services at Intuit, Inc., found her board seat with the assistance of BoardMatch, a program run by Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives (FEW&E), a Palo Alto-based organization for female executives.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” says Denzel, who serves on two committees on Overland Storage’s board and is also the FWE&E’s BoardMatch coordinator. She says that, since the inception of the program in 2006, she has conducted a dozen board searches and is one of two women who found a seat on a board in 2007 through the program.
Sheryle Bolton, a successful manager of technology companies, found her board match at Bridge Capital Holdings, a banking institution that specializes serving small and middle-market and emerging technology businesses.
The women’s board placements were announced by FWE&E in November 2007.
BoardMatch was launched because qualified women who wanted seats on boards didn’t know how to find them and companies touting that they wanted women and diversity on their boards were looking in all of the wrong places, says Wendy Beechem, CEO of FWE&E.
“There are women that are board caliber,” said Denzel. “You just have to know where to look. A lot of recruiters are now coming to us and networking with us. As we announce more and more appointments I think we become much more a part of the solution.”
Being a part of the solution is BoardMatch’s and FWE&E’s goal. Founded in 1993, FWE&E provides leadership support and networking to top-tier executive women.
“There are so few organizations that really focus on the most senior women executive,” says Beechem, who wants women to benefit with the “level of programming that we offer, but also the interaction with women who truly are their peers.”
“We attract the best and the brightest from the Bay Area,” says Beecham about FWE&E’s diverse membership that spans the San Francisco Bay Area drawing the cream of the crop of women leaders from a variety of industries that could have a profound impact on companies.
Purses are good for company’s bottom lines
In spite of making up half of the population and being responsible for 83 percent of all direct consumer spending, Denzel says, “women are woefully underrepresented on corporate boards.” Men, white men in particular, occupied the vast majority of the 1,219 board seats, at 82.94% and 71.53%, respectively, according to recent findings by the Alliance for Board Diversity.
The fact that women represent only 17.06 percent of all directorships, and white women hold 13.04 percent of those directorships, according to the report, presents a skewed picture, and one that doesn’t reflect the consumer-base.
“The importance is all about diversity of viewpoint,” says Denzel. “You want your boards to look like your customers do. When you look at the demographics across the globe and across who buys your product you want your board to reflect that so you get the richness of the discussion from the diversity of points of views.”
Unfortunately, in 2008, boards remain stagnant with very little change in members occupying seats, especially when it comes to seeing female faces at the table.
The one bright spot is that minority women gained 13 board seats, but white women and minority men lost seven and three seats, respectively, according to the report. Another key finding is that representation of woman and minority men on Fortune 100 corporate boards didn’t change substantially from 2004 to 2006, a disappointing finding since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act encouraged companies to diversify the composition of its board of directors.
Diversity is good for a company’s bottom line. Catalyst recently published a study called Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity. Catalyst tested the gender-diversity of top management teams against teams without women. The study showed that the companies with more women on their team financially outperformed the group with fewer.
Getting women on board
Beecham, who took the helm of FWE&E in September 2007, along with the organization’s new chairwoman Chris Shipley, is fast tracking FWE&E to meet members’ needs. This means strengthening what BoardMatch can accomplish with educational programs, such as the upcoming Advanced Board Series in conjunction with the National Association of Corporate Directors on May 20 and the recent Public and Private Board’s series. Both series help executive women understand what it takes to get onto and serve on a board.
“It’s not about earning power. It’s truly is about qualifications,” says Beecham. She discovered during the past year that board members seek new members who have particular industry connections or have specific functional expertise, creating an intense review process by candidates and companies that can take up to eight months to complete.
Beecham pointed to Andrea Jung, chairman and chief executive officer of Avon Products, was elected to Apple’s board of directors in January, as an example of what boards are looking for. Jung can contribute significantly to Apple’s influence and bottom line targeting China as well as women, according to a January 7 Cnet News.com article that pointed out Jung’s attributes. She is fluent in Mandrin, has experience making serious market advances in China for Avon, and has a strong retail background as a former executive vice president of Neiman Marcus and a former senior vice president for I. Magnin.
An alternative to full-board membership is advisory board membership.
“We have a program coming up setting up an advisory board as well because a lot of times that’s a good stepping stone for board services by serving on advisory board first, Beecham says.
To level the networking playing field, Beecham is taking a two pronged approach to tackle the issue. She’s working with Mary O’Hara Deveraux, founder and CEO of Global Foresight, and Rayona Sharpnack, founder of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, to adapt their strategic power networking for FWE&E. She hopes the program will help women improve the way they network.
FWE&E members are also able to join the organization’s social networking Web site launched in March, which Denzel and she hope will also serve as a resource for BoardMatch.
“[Networking is] one of the biggest areas where women can have a stronger impact,” says Beechem, who perceives all of FWE&E programs working together to give executive women the boost they need in the boardroom and executive suite, “is by learning how to network differently.”
For more information about the Advanced Board Series on May 20 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Palo Alto or to become a member of FWE&E, visit www.fwe.org.