Q: According to the 2017 Fortune 500 list, 6.4% of CEOs in America’s top companies are women. And while there is growth in the number of women holding senior leadership roles, European countries still lag behind the US. The percentage of corporate board seats held by women is more than twice the percentage of women CEOs, though there is still a vast majority of board and senior leadership positions held by men. What do you look for when you build or join an advisory board?
A: For businesses of any type, perspective can be important.
As women in today’s workforce, we are so very fortunate to have had the generations of women who came before us who paved the way. And while gender equality is not yet where we want it to be, we are light years ahead of where we were. Fighting for the rights of women though is about more than the right to vote and the right for equal wages for half of the population. Having women fully involved in the workforce is part of our global economic future.
49.6% of the world’s population are women. Women control over $20 trillion in worldwide spending, and in America, women account for nearly 85% of all consumer purchases. Those are difficult numbers to ignore. But much more than simply acknowledging this percentage of our population, of our customer base, we must embrace the diversity and perspective of those we live with and those we serve.
I think that is why it is so important to have women in senior leadership roles and serving on boards. But it’s not just about gender differences. I believe companies are made stronger by embracing diverse perspectives to help guide corporate growth.
Whether in a senior leadership position or serving on a board, there is immense value in surrounding yourself with diverse opinions and perspectives. True growth results from challenging assumptions and thinking differently on a topic. The saying exists for a reason – the definition of futility is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.
We can so easily succumb to group think when we only surround ourselves with likeminded people. To move beyond ‘what we’ve always done,’ we must choose to challenge assumptions and think differently. Which is why having an advisory board with diversity is so important to me. But diverse perspectives are not just about gender. They come not only from traditional definitions of racial and ethnic diversity, but from geographic, socio-economic and generational differences as well. We are each a product of our experiences. And those experiences provide our unique frame of reference.
When building a board, the goal should be to combine perspectives and bring new awareness to the situation. Someone who grew up in a small mountain town will see things differently than someone raised in the heart of a major city. Likewise, a parent will see things differently from someone who has never been married or had children. The collection of perspectives is what brings the most value; and our leadership and advisory groups should reflect the diversity of our clients (both current and future prospects).
So why don’t we see more women in senior leadership or serving on boards? I’m sure there are a number of reasons. Not everyone seeks out diverse perspectives with an emphasis on looking at gender. And no, women’s equality is not truly equal yet. But another reason is also that women may not choose or desire to serve in those positions. Through the height of the women’s movement, it was about women “doing it all” – proving that women could do anything. In my generation, and I hope for future generations as well, it is not about women having to “do it all”, but about our right to choose. For both men and women alike, the right to choose is still a newer concept, but one that I hope is gaining more acceptance. We live in a time where we get to pick who we want to be and what we want to do. Life and society requires many different things. You cannot have a functioning society and economy when every person and every role is exactly identical. We need diversity in our roles, responsibilities and perspectives.