Getting Women On Boards: Three Ways to Increase the Numbers


The hot topic of getting more qualified women on corporate boards continues unabated. Recent statistics show how companies with women prominently serving in such capacities experience higher-than-average financial performance. A major investment group even declared earlier this year that it would push to get women on the boards of the companies in their portfolio.

Yet the number of women on the boards of Fortune 500 corporations remains extremely low; just slightly above 10 percent. In fact, more Fortune 500 companies had all-male boards in 2016 than in the previous year. It’s a trend that’s headed in the wrong direction. But there are ways to turn it around, including these three:

Companies, Boards, and CEOs: Work To Expand Your Networks

Companies, current directors, recruiters, and CEOs should work long before there is a board opening to expand the list of prospective candidates beyond their respective lists of personal contacts. Consider individuals outside your existing network, and find ways to connect to them through folks that you know. Make your list of potential board members larger, more diverse, and stronger.

Technology and life sciences corporations that place a strategic priority on finding qualified women to serve as board members find greater success. San Diego companies like Aragon, Nimbus, Alios, and Receptos had women on their boards. Each were subsequently acquired for more than $1 billion, with Aragon and Receptos exiting within five years of their formation.

Women: Let the Right People Know You’re Interested and Qualified

Women shouldn’t assume that search firms and consultants will seek them out for board opportunities. They should make their interest known, demonstrate their skills and expertise, and let their networks know about their availability. Expressing interest can help those actively seeking to diversify their pool of directors to place you top of mind.

In San Diego, programs like Athena’s On-Board Special Interest Group can help women boost their  board skills. This series works to bolster the capabilities (and the networks) of aspiring board members by offering insights on everything needed to succeed in that role.

Startups and venture capital-backed companies are also good places to improve your board skills. Early stage companies need experts to help guide their growth. Participating on these types of boards can be beneficial in several ways. Many of these startups will become public companies and provide valuable experience for you during and after that transition. Even if a startup never becomes a public company, the network of individuals you will create in the process will open up other opportunities.

Organizations Are Matchmakers: Cultivate a Critical Community

Professional associations can also play an important part in increasing the number of qualified women on boards. Groups like Athena and its Pinnacle Awards bring together top executives in a spirit of collaboration and support. Athena also hosts CEO & CFO Forums, which are private settings for executives to come together with other women from a variety of businesses to share successes, challenges, confidential business strategies and management techniques to accelerate growth.

Other associations also work to foster tight collaboration between executives. Biocom, Corporate Directors Forum, Women Corporate Directors Forum and Connect, are groups worth your exploration, especially if you seek to learn and excel at governance or other areas of need for board leadership. Credible board-seekers will find that San Diego life science and tech leadership community prides itself on sharing opportunities with others, believing that a rising tide does raise all boats.

This region holds a plethora of qualified women candidates for board seats. Companies, as stated prior, must reach out to a broader network with a culture that promotes the intentional effort of inclusion.

Jennifer Giottonini Cayer has over 25 years of biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device experience. Cayer co-founded two venture-backed biotech companies including Travus Therapeutics and Chromis Therapuetics. Prior to the creation of those companies, She was the chief operating officer of Rempex Pharmaceuticals, acquired by The Medicines Company two years after the company was founded. Follow @

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