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Progress of women on boards since 1917… what’s your take?

As a longtime fan of ForbesWoman, I was intrigued to read that B.C. Forbes, the founder of FORBES magazine, dedicated the
first issue to women in business. “Forbes believes her achievements are
wide,” he wrote, predicting that women “will soon sit on boards beside
That was in 1917. Almost 100 years on, have we achieved enough?

As at the commencement of 2012, women hold:

  • 40.1% of board positions in Norway
  • 16.1% of board seats in the Fortune 500 companies
  • 12.7% of directorships on Australia’s top 200 companies
  • 12.5% of directorships in the UK
  • 0.9% of directorships in Japan.

Some believe (myself included. obviously!) that we need more women on boards.  Some say women bring different values to the table.  Research shows gender balanced boards produce better results: with a 2011 Catalyst study
showing that major companies with three or more female directors
outperformed companies with zero women on boards by 46 percent of return
on equity.  And of course, here in Australia the ASX corporate governance guidelines are encouraging many companies to consider gender balance in their business for the very first time..

So if a board position is in your sights for 2012, here’s some tips from ForbesWoman writer, Sylvia-Ann Hewlitt that seem to make pretty good sense to me:

  • Leverage your strengths, by applying for positions where your unique skills will be brought to the fore;
  • Work your network, using professional groups and your own little black book (or LinkedIn connections!) to get you intros;
  • Develop a game plan: it won’t just happen, you’ll need to develop a plan to build your board profile which I believe may include cold calls, search firms or industry connections;
  •  Be realistic: if you haven’t served on a board before, the ASX50 is probably not your best starting place!  Try a NFP, association or government board first to get some experience;
  • Strategise for success, by understanding your unique value proposition and using it to your advantage.

Having said that, here in Australia women have been receiving advice for decades on how to
get onto boards, into exec roles etc etc. Almost 10 years on from when
we began reporting on women on boards, nothing had changed – the figure
was stuck at 8%. This is despite women comprising the majority of
university graduates in business disciplines for almost 2 decades. It was only when last
year, the Australian Stock Exchange enforced new corporate governance guidelines requiring listed companies to disclose the number of women on
their board and in senior roles, that women on
the ASX200 boards have increased to 12.7% – a 50% increase on the
starting point. Which leads me to think: advice is good; but
intervention is better. 

I know many of you have experience on boards, or appointing directors — is there something you could add to this?



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