Invisible: Why many women aren’t on boards

3/1/2012, noon
While many female executives have made it to the top of their department or senior executive levels within their organizations, ...

The proof is self-evident.

According to the Michigan Women’s Leadership Index, published annually by Inforum, found that Women of Color make up 1.18% of board directors in the top 100 public companies in Michigan, a slight decrease from 1.4% in 2009.

“Executives with experience as CEOs and CFOs are usually in high demand, as are those with specific expertise,” notes Terry Barclay, chief executive officer of Inforum, Michigan’s largest business organization helping women lead and succeed in the workplace. “For example, international experience – particularly in Asia – is in high demand. The needs of public companies are diverse. When companies seek to recruit board members, they look for high-level executives that can add something of real value. The seek people with perspectives or sets of skills that fills a gap for managers and/or other board members.”

“In addition to the importance of diversity of race and gender is diversity of thought. It is the candidate’s experience and track record that matters most,” said Riley. “There’s got to be a fit with the organization’s unique corporate goals, mission and business needs. Vivian Pickard was a natural fit to our Fifth Third Bank board. She had the corporate governance, finance, political and leadership experience our leadership was seeking, in addition to the type of proven philanthropy and community-based marketing expertise we value.”


It’s important that candidates do not dismiss non-profit board posts.


“Experience matters. A large number of women are appointed to non-profit board seats,” comments Forte, “which can serve as an invaluable training experience.”

The type of nonprofit board service matters, according to Barclay. “Being a board member of a big, non-profit health care system or university can provide the experience, visibility and strategic connections that can get you there faster.”

Although preparation is a key consideration, Hayes Giles comments that board trends are shifting, albeit ever so slightly.

“Forward thinking companies are starting to take a more consumer-minded focus in filling available board seats, recruiting candidates that mirror their consumer demographics,” she said.

And they are being rewarded by the insight that a more diverse group of board members brings to the process.

“Bottom line, a company’s profit margin lifts in tandem with consumer satisfaction,” says the customer service expert who has invested 33 years in building DTE Energy’s reputation as a leader in customer satisfaction.


As more women enter the boardroom, they elevate other candidates, according to Hayes Giles.

“The insiders circle is a very, very small circle,” said Hayes Giles. “Men recruit and recommend other men to fill board seats. And it’s up to us to recruit and recommend other women. Without such advocacy, challenges will remain.”

It’s worth noting that despite advances, the majority of women appointed to boards are serving without compensation.

“Paid board seats are highly coveted and don’t come easily to candidates, regardless their gender, race or area of expertise,” said Hayes Giles. “Ultimately, I’d like to be among those few.”



A common thread among female executives interviewed is this consensus: board seats are filled by executives with the lowest common risk factors.

Are you worth the risk?