The glass ceiling was shattered last Saturday as Kamala Harris was announced as the first female vice president-elect in U.S. history. Not only is she the first woman, but also the first Black and South Asian American that will hold the position. All politics aside, it’s important to recognize the history being made right before our eyes. The representation and diversity Harris will bring to the White House alone is reason enough to celebrate this historic win no matter your beliefs, gender, background, or political alignment. She’s broken through the barricade that women have been stuck behind for centuries, along with those women that paved the way before her like Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Shirley Chisholm, andRuth Bader Ginsburg to name a few.
This election year happens to fall on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which established American women’s right to vote when it was ratified on August, 18th 1920. While the ratification of the 19th Amendment was a huge step for women, it has proved to be only the beginning of a long-winded fight for equality that we are still fighting for today, 100 years later. During her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris stepped out onto the stage in an all white suit. Her suit was much more than a fashion statement — it was a deliberate choice, standing as a recognition to those women who came before her and those who will come after. White has long been recognized as a color of purity and hope and is associated with the suffrage movement dating back to1913 when 8,000 women wore white to march in Washington D.C. the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. They did this to protest and demand an amendment allowing women the right to vote. Since then, there have been numerous occasions where women holding political positions wore white as a nod to those suffragettes who came before them and essentially paved the way to where they are today.
While Harris recognized the ones that came before her, she also brings a new hope to the future generations of leaders to come. By having diversity — not only with gender, but race — well-represented in leadership positions within our country, inspiration is created for younger generations to know that their voice can be heard; they are more than capable of achieving their goals, whether that be running for president of their 8th grade class, or running for President of the United States. During her speech she stated, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last – because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” Harris did not become the first female vice president-elect without continuing the legacy of the women before her, and now the little girls who dream of being a leader can use Harris as a stepping stone on their own ladder to success.
Women should not still have to fight for equality in this country, especially 100 years after we were granted the right to vote. However, we will continue the fight until everyone recognizes the capability and power a woman holds. As the Notorious RBG said herself, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” and that is exactly where we will be from now on.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was notorious for her persistent fight to advocate for women, but her legacy goes beyond the work she accomplished as a Supreme Court justice, and she was not always esteemed for her fierce determination. As a student at Harvard Law School, she was criticized for “taking a man’s place,” even though she ended up tying for first in her class. Many women in the US are currently struggling to work from home while managing their children’s schoolwork. The Notorious RBG was no stranger to this dilemma. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer while they were both in law school, she took all of his notes and typed all of his papers in addition to her own, all while taking care of her newborn daughter. She faced discrimination in the workplace and had a hard time finding a job, but once she got started, she was on a roll.
Ginsburg, like most women, was also scrutinized for her personality. She was too serious, too forgiving. Too progressive, not progressive enough. Her appointment was eventually supported by feminists, but some gawked at her close friendship with the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Their relationship served as a reminder to the country that relationships can transcend political boundaries. They frequently traveled together, attending operas and riding elephants. However, his views did not bleed into hers, and she went on to become the leading liberal justice on the Supreme Court.
She was an expert of making the most of what she had. As a frequent member of the minority vote in the Supreme Court, she made history for her eloquent dissents, some of which eventually inspired new laws. Some of the highlights of her legacy precede her time in the Supreme Court. She co-founded the Women’s Rights wing of the American Civil Liberties Union, became the first tenured female law professor at Columbia, and co-founded the first women’s rights law journal, all during the 1970s, when most boardrooms had no room for women. In her later years, she became a pop icon, inspiring teens to become politically involved as she demonstrated her workout routine on late night television.
Ginsburg inspired men and women both through her actions and her words. As the second woman to ever be nominated to the US Supreme Court, she knew that it would take serious work for women to be effectively represented.
“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Although she is no longer with us, her story is not over. Her work continues to inspire efforts toward representation and equal pay. She persisted, and we must continue to persist.
2020 has been nothing short of a surprise to everyone. Who would’ve thought we would be starting a new decade with a global pandemic? It has certainly brought on new challenges for everyone as we try to navigate our new “normal.” While it might be difficult to see the good in times like this, what if we made 2020 an opportunity to reset cultural norms and create a more supportive environment specifically in the workplace? Working moms for example, have had to reduce their work hours in order to juggle the sudden responsibility of not only being a mom, but a teacher for their children while many schools are still virtual. An article fromThe Lily explains how the pandemic could be beneficial, specifically for working moms as they transition back into the office. Here are our top 5 takeaways:
1. “Talking about our personal lives is now less taboo, and we should keep it up.”
Prior to the pandemic, coworkers might have been more private about the challenges going on in their personal lives. However, with the majority of people working from home, they don’t have much of a choice but to welcome their coworkers into their lives. Dogs barking and children playing in the background of Zoom meetings have become the new soundtrack to their lives. The article stressed the importance of employees and managers being empathetic and maintaining open communication going forward. “Managers can respectfully learn those insights by asking open ended questions, such as, ‘Are there any ways in which I’d be helpful to you as you think about staying at this organization for the long-term?’”
2. “We should re-examine our approach to telecommuting.”
When companies began to make the switch to remote work during the pandemic back in March, many were unsure of how productivity would still be maximized without working together in the office. Months later, there is successful evidence that it might be best for some people to continue working from home going into the future. Allowing employees to work from home when they are not needed to be in the office could come with many benefits like, cutting down on traffic and improving diversity. By having more remote positions available within the company, this is an opportunity for diversity to be maximized as different people could be hired from all over the country or potentially the world if necessary.
3. “We should think about all types of flexibility options.”
Flexibility has become an important mindset for companies within the past few months. This not only applies to working remotely, but could also change the typical workweek and hours. When it comes to shifting work hours, “to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours,” working moms would be able to adjust their day based on not only their work priorities but their families as well.
4. “Management training should become more of a priority.”
2020 has been a year that has relied heavily on supporting and loving your neighbor. This can translate into the workplace as the roles of managers have changed from just being a leader within the office, to being a leader and support system in the lives of their employees. Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and lead strategist for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Graduate School of Business, said that her and her team “have found that managers are spending more time on employee care, in response to both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.” Moving forward, it might be beneficial for companies to offer more managerial training in how to best support the care of their employees.
5. “We should consider how we support workers outside of the office.”
The pandemic has hit the world hard financially as many people have lost their jobs, have had a cut in their income, or lacked the resources they need to work from home. The article discussed how some companies were able to give their employees a stipend for their “…home office budget–money for a new chair or desktop monitor.” However, if they are able, companies could offer different stipends to their employees in order to help them out more in other aspects of their life. For example, the article suggested “…companies could offer a child-care budget for parents worried about offices opening back up while schools remain closed.”
To read the entire article and others like it, click here.
The wage gap between men and women has been what seems to be a never-ending fight forequal pay, with women earningabout 76¢ to a man’s dollar, and minorities earning even less. A problem that has not received the same recognition – but is equally damaging in the fight for equality – is the wealth gap, in which women investonly 32¢ for every dollar invested by men. I sat down with DeLynn Zell, CEO of Bridgeworth Financial, and Alice Womack, Associate Managing Director in Private Banking at Oakworth Capital Bank, to talk about the differences between the wealth and wage gap and how they are affecting women in business.
Why do you think the wealth gap is less talked about than the wage gap?
People have not been focused on the wealth gap because it tends to be a stereotypical subject. Some women are uncomfortable talking about wealth and some women tend to be better at saving than investing. In the older generations, most women would depend on their husbands to control their investing, but in recent years, I have seen that women have shown more interest in investing and have had to step up to take on a more active role with their finances. Women are inheriting a tremendous amount of money and the wealth gap will be closing. I don’t know why it is not talked about because it should be. In the next 10 years, I see that women are going to be controlling the majority of the wealth in this country.
They are both important. The wealth gap encompasses the wage gap, it encompasses a lot of things including confidence in investing, risk tolerance, and career gaps. Women tend to have more gaps in their career because they are usually the caregiver of the family regardless of income. The less time women spend working, coupled with the wage gap while they are working, means less money to be put aside for investing. The ability to take on more risk and the confidence in doing so, will reduce the wealth gap. The wealth gap is a broader subject.
How has the wealth gap affected your performance and desire to climb the corporate ladder?
Early on in my career, we were on commission. However, I later learned that 2 of the guys that started when I did were being given a stipend for a year and I was not. The head of the firm didn’t think women could make it in our field but thought that by giving me a shot, he was doing me a favor. That only made me work harder to prove myself. Now, I’m fortunate enough to say that things worked out in the end.
I took time off to be with my children and fully exited the workplace for two years. When I did go back, I spent several years in a part-time role. If I had to do it all again, I would make the same decision today, but it does affect your ability to save for retirement. Not only did I not have income to contribute to my retirement plan, I missed out on the benefit of my employer match of my personal contribution. Investing early on is critical to growing your wealth, and the caregiving years for children are typically fairly early.
How in your workplace do you try to combat the wealth gap among employees and clients?
As a female, I am sensitive to that and have made sure that wages are based on job description and performance. Nothing is based on gender. I’ve heard older people in the past make comments like “He’s got a wife and kids at home, he should make more than a woman who is the second breadwinner in her family.” While that is something that has gone away quickly with the younger generations, I am afraid we still have some of that attitude.
From a client perspective, education and awareness are important. I think women are starting to feel more and more comfortable talking about finances. It is encouraging to see more advisors and financial institutions incorporate programs and make efforts to equip and educate women financially. When advising couples, we make a concerted effort to hear both spouses. Often during financial planning sessions, there is a spouse that is more comfortable talking for the couple. We are mindful to draw out the other individual to ensure that their voice is equally heard as they may have never given thought to options presented to them until they learn what is available. Research has shown that women are very comfortable with saving and bill paying, but far less comfortable than their male counterparts when it comes to investing. Our role is to encourage them to learn more about and be responsible for their individual financial health.
Do you feel like the glass ceiling is still intact or have we broken through?
I think in many industries it has been broken, but there are some where it still exists. I do think it’s generational as well. I see a difference in attitude between the 30-40 year olds and 50-60 year olds I work with. The younger generation is more progressive and has grown up seeing women at work while the older generations might not be used to seeing women in the workplace. We are seeing tremendous strides as the younger generations take control. While it may not be completely broken through, there are more shatters in it than there has ever been.
The statistics are trending positively. There are more women in the workforce now than ever before. About half of the labor force for females are also in executive management and professional roles. However, women continue to lag pretty substantially behind men in leadership roles that include C-Suite and top management positions, political offices and Board seats.
How do you think corporate America should continue to work towards closing the wealth gap?
I think there has to be mindful attention paid to ensuring that compensation has no reflection of gender. When I was in college, it was not uncommon to see women in accounting, but I didn’t see too many in finance. I have heard it said that men seem to talk to their daughters about saving while they talk to their sons about investing. A lot has changed, but we need to make sure we are educating and encouraging women to focus on wealth accumulation.
We need to make it less of a social stigma for men to take on those caregiving roles for children and parents. Employers have to encourage men to know that it’s okay to take the time off either short or long term if it makes financial sense and encourage balance for a family. I have also witnessed the reluctance of employers to hire or promote women due to their expectation that they will leave the workplace even if that is not in their plans to do so. Hopefully over time there will be more cultural acceptance and encouraging workplace policies for those scenarios.
Financial education among women also continues to be very important as they control more and more of the wealth in the U.S. Women tend to live longer, outliving their spouse, and need additional resources to do so. Unfortunately, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. It is critical that women understand and take responsibility for their financial health.
As a full-time Chief Meteorologist and a parent, in the blink of a pandemic eye I also became a full-time teacher, cook, housekeeper, gardener, and field trip organizer. My home has become the school, playground, office, and TV set. I’m a planner and a crisis communicator by trade. I forecast future weather for crying out loud, but I never saw this coming. No one else saw it coming either, which is why this global pandemic has become a great equalizer.
While there is much uncertainty amidst all of the change, there is also so much opportunity. We have adapted to new workflows, processes, systems. Some have had to make a complete career pivot. Some have taken on delivery jobs just to make ends meet. From the C-Suite to the frontlines, the shutdown and social distancing have affected everyone. For some, the change may feel like a small ripple. For others, more like a tidal wave.
Let’s get one thing clear…Depending on the plates that you’re spinning, some days are probably a haze. You’re struggling to hang on between the homeschooling or care-taking, the house chores and work responsibilities. The cooking, the cleaning, the disinfecting– it all piles up. It’s a lot. In that, there will be things that go back to normal soon, like kids going back to school. We will be able to send spouses out of the house to run errands again. Our walls won’t seem to be pushing in on us as much as we move forward.
As we emerge on the other side, I do hope businesses take a hard look at how this pandemic has forced change. I believe this could open up doors for women by creating more flexibility and empathy in the workplace. This may be a solution for retaining talent long term. For women, climbing the corporate ladder often is stymied due to a lack of options and being forced to choose between personal priorities (children, spouse, aging parents…) and a promotion. Remote-working strategies can produce greater productivity, create long term loyalty, and pave the way for future growth. This is a game changer!
In this global pandemic, the rigid walls of corporations have had to morph into malleable support systems for their employees. We’ve all gotten to see inside each other’s world. I think we’ve been more honest with one another and we’ve seen more authentic bonds being made, because it’s hard to ignore the golden retriever stealing the show on your daily Zoom call from home. We’ve allowed for grace and we’ve been able to see each person in a new way. I believe this could be a defining moment in how we move forward in retaining the best and the brightest in business. We are redefining what collaboration, communication, and productivity look like.
We are proving, through these new work models, that we can have our cake and eat it too. We can attend high powered meetings one minute, while scrubbing dishes and teaching our children the next. I have come to realize a woman can be as successful in her office with a view as she can be at her dining room table covered with crayons. The view may look different, but giving women choices on how they take flight will give them the greatest chance at soaring as high as they can. We must not dismiss these work from home changes as temporary, but see how that can radically redefine workplace culture and ultimately attract the very best to your brand and business. Giving someone options and flexibility is a tremendous value-add for every organization.
Momentum held the first of its 2019-2020 Leadership Series this month. Susan Hodgkinson, Leadership Development Expert and best-selling author of The Dignity Mindset: A Leader’s Guide to Building Gender Equity at Work, was invited to hold a workshop discussing key themes from her book on achieving gender equity in the workplace.
The workshop was part of Momentum’s Leadership Series which is designed to offer men and women professional development opportunities with events occurring quarterly throughout the year. Hosted at Encompass Health, the event started with networking and breakfast before diving into the concept of gender equity.
Hodgkinson outlined two reasons why gender equity is not normalized in today’s culture. One, starting at a young age our brains become engendered by societal ideas of what it means to be female or male. Hodgkinson uses the well-known statement “you throw like a girl” to beg the question, what is the story that we are teaching about gender? Statements like these often portray “female characteristics” as weak in comparison to “male characteristics,” teaching women and girls that they are inferior. Two, the depiction of women as objects whose main purpose is to appease men is pervasive in our culture and the media. Hodgkinson cited vivid cases portraying inauthentic representations or no representation of women at all.
Hodgkinson challenged attendees to apply the Bechdel test to the films of today which measures female depictions in works of fiction. The test only requires a film to have at least two women characters whose names are made clear in the film, and converse with each other about something other than a man. According to Duke Research Blog, only 40-50% of U.S. films from 2015-2017 fail the Bechdel test, which is surprising considering the simple requirements needed to pass. The lack of female representation in media is just as concerning. Only 10% of voluntary contributors to Wikipedia are women, and only about 17% of the 1.5 million biographies in English are about women.
Feelings of inferiority cause a major problem in the workplace. In what is called the “Confidence Gap,” data show that women are less self-assured than men, and more likely to have Imposter Syndrome. So what steps can we take to resolve this concern and establish gender equity? Outlining seven tools to create gender equity through a dignity-driven culture, Hodgkinson makes it clear that the change is mostly up to business leaders. In order to create a dignity-driven culture, leaders must recognize that every team member has the same fundamental needs and choose to fulfill them. Leaders must also make space for the voices of women and people of color to be heard, and seek to increase their presence when there is a lack of diversity in business spaces.
Read Susan Hodgkinson’s book, The Dignity Mindset: A Leader’s Guide to Building Gender Equity at Work, to learn more about leading from a dignity-driven mindset.
When you work really hard to gain expertise in your field, you want to believe that your competence will earn you extra stripes and higher level positions. Turns out it’s confidence, more than competence, that makes the bigger difference. More than mere bravado, authentic confidence comes from believing in your competence, trusting your abilities, having faith in your instincts, and conquering the fear of failure.
Many women lack the same level of confidence and self-esteem that men have. While some level of explanation may be rooted in physiological differences, most of it is social. In a 2015 study on Age and Gender Difference in Self Esteem, Wiebke Bleidorn and her research team studied nearly one million subjects from 48 nations. They found that worldwide, men systematically have higher levels of self-esteem than women, and that self-esteem increases with age from adolescence to adulthood. What is surprising about their study is this: the confidence gap between men and women is actually higher in industrialized, western, more egalitarian countries than in developing countries. How can we explain that?
It seems to me that in countries where women’s equality is guaranteed by law and where women expect to be treated as equals, the blow to self-esteem is much greater when women experience inequality, unconscious bias, and harassment.
So how can women overcome these deeply seated sociocultural norms to regain their confidence and self-esteem? Dr. Sharon Melnick is a leading authority on business psychology, stress resilience, and women’s leadership. According to Melnick, there are three main patterns that affect confidence levels:
Looping Self/Other Criticism
To rise above these patterns, we have to understand why we do them and be willing to move from what Melnick calls a “confidence seeker” to a “confidence contributor.” Once we can make the shift from looking to others for our confidence, we can begin to gain confidence from the true value of our contributions.
Dr. Melnick is a preferred facilitator for Momentum’s executive leadership class. This year Momentum is hosting a leadership series open to the community, and this week Dr. Melnick will conduct her “Confidence When it Counts” workshop January 16, 2019 at Samford University.
Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality. Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:
Abolition of slavery, 1865
African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
Women’s right to vote, 1920
Civil Rights Act, 1964
Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990
Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states. In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!
Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.
Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.
Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:
Women represent just 20% of Congress, and are similarly under-represented at the state and local level. The Washington Post published interactive data to show results by state.
We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.
I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Athena Collective entitled the ABCs of Breaking Bias. The guest speaker was Dr. Stefanie Johnson, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. This is such an important topic, because understanding unconscious bias, and how we can keep it in check, is fundamental to getting the best talent to take on the challenges in our companies, organizations and communities.
I was glad to see that the audience was made up of men and women of many ethnic backgrounds and ages. Dr. Johnson helped us all to see that unconscious bias is in all of us. It is primal, rooted in the tendency of humans to observe the world around them and unconsciously use the data collected to make thousands of micro-decisions every day–decisions that may or may not be sound, depending on that individual’s experiences. Women exhibit gender bias just as men do. Minorities make biased decisions based on race each day. No one can be totally free of unconscious bias, but Dr. Johnson presented four easy ways to rein it in with her “ABCs” of breaking bias:
A is for Admit it. As mentioned above, we all exhibit unconscious bias, so let’s just admit it without blame or shame. I would add to the A-list two more words: raise awareness when you observe unconscious bias and address it.
B is for Blind it. The Boston Symphony became the poster-child for blinding unconscious bias when it began using blind auditions in an effort to test gender bias on its hiring of musicians. They started by holding auditions behind a curtain, and even went so far as to have musicians remove their shoes, since the clicking of women’s heels even tipped off the hiring committee as to their gender. The result ? The blind auditions increased a woman’s chances of moving past the first audition by 50%, and accounts for 30% of female new hires, according to a research study in the American Economic Review. Similar “blinding actions” can be taken by companies, educational institutions, and healthcare professionals by removing names and other bias-tipping factors from resumes, reviews, records and recommendations.
C is for Count it. What gets measured gets done, so if we can quantify how unconscious bias negatively affects our workplaces, we can make the case for change. For example, tracking metrics on the diversity of candidates before and after implementing blind screening practices can be a great way to demonstrate that unconscious bias exists. It’s equally important to show data to motivate policy makers to invest in a more diverse talent pool. Fortunately, an increasing number of reliable research studies point to strong correlations between diversity positive key performance indicators.
S is for Support it. Humans find safety in sameness, so human nature causes us to surround ourselves with people like us. Yet we know that it’s the diversity of any ecosystem that defines its strength and longevity. Workplaces, educational institutions, and communities are no exception. One of the most frequently cited studies supporting diversity is Why Diversity Matters from McKinsey & Company. While the study asserts that the link between diversity and high performance is a correlation, and not necessarily causation, there is a very strong, logical case that diversity gets more talent to the table and helps teams avoid “group think” in important decisions.
Even if we stop short of making sweeping organizational changes to address unconscious bias, each on of us can check our own biases on a daily basis. For example, when describing a person, how often do you include details about gender, race, or age, even when they are absolutely irrelevant to your story? Double-check that you are not somehow implying something unintentional. Consider the images conjured in your mind when you read the following:
I was behind this old guy parking his car.
I was behind this woman parking her car.
I was behind this black man parking his car.
I was behind a business man parking his car.
Based on the fact that the speaker qualified who was parking the car, we immediately form a stereotype of the story to follow. Having qualified who was parking the car may reinforce the unconscious bias that an old person, woman, or black man would not park a car as well as the business man, when in fact, those things have nothing to do with that individuals ability to park a car. Why not simply say, “I was behind this person parking their car and noticed that the gas cap was open.”
Admit bias, blind it, count it and support efforts to counter it. Dr. Johnson’s “ABCs” for breaking bias are great building blocks for more diversity in our workplaces and communities.
One of the goals on my personal development plan when I was in Momentum was to serve on a nonprofit board. I had no prior board experience, but with the encouragement of my co-mentoring group and a little networking I easily found my way. I realized within a few board meetings that I could have, and should have, pursued the board opportunity earlier. Nonprofits, schools, universities and small businesses can all benefit from a diverse board to advise, strategize, and get things done. The board members benefit too. My board service at Children’s of Alabama committee for the future, TechBirmingham, TechAlabama, UAB’s Collat School of Business Sales and Marketing, and UAB’s School of Engineering IEM board, has enriched my life in three ways:
Expanded my network. Through board service I’ve gotten to know close to one hundred local professionals. I make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn. I can rely on this network as a sounding board for new ideas, make connections between people with similar business interests, and get feedback when I have a particular issue or question.
Gained confidence. No matter how confident I think I am, I still can have that little voice inside that wonders if I really know what I think I know. Testing your ideas and strategy at the board level is very validating, because your fellow board members are smart, they are equally committed to the cause, and more objective than traditional co-workers.
Made great friends. By volunteering for projects and committees I have gotten to know quite a few fellow board members on a personal level, and those friendships live on. My career and family do not leave a lot of time for forging new friendships, so uncovering these as a result of board service has been a real bonus.
One thing I have noticed is the lack of women on boards. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the women at the table do not volunteer their ideas as often as the men, particularly if there are a lot more men than women at the table. I’ve read a lot of studies and stats on women and board service and it boils down to this: women are half the US population, women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 62% of masters degrees, and 53% of Phd, medical and law degrees. Representation by women on boards in the United States–whether you look at public, private, nonprofit, or particular industries–is generally below 20%.
There are many reasons behind the gender gap at the board level. Board seats usually go to individuals who hold top positions in their organizations, the positions just beyond the proverbial glass ceiling. Unconscious bias (something men and women have) in hiring, managing and promoting women throughout their careers is a primary contributing factor. Women are also tapped out, since they often have to work harder to be recognized at work, and also carry more of the load at home, particularly working mothers.
The good news is that we see a lot more data in the last few years about the benefits of a diverse board, including gender diversity, for boards of directors. We’ll be exploring this topic during our “Women on Corporate Boards” session, with facilitator Major General Lee Price and four outstanding panelists at the Momentum Leadership Conference in February. I look forward to posting some insights from that panel in March. Stay tuned.