Experts discuss board composition and diversity

Women are important stakeholders in companies and can offer diversity to a corporate board of directors, said Freeman Hrabrowski, President, University of Maryland Baltimore County. Having women on boards enhances different types of discussion and deliberation.

Companies with the largest revenues have the greatest number of women directors on boards, Eileen Rehrmann, President-Elect, Network2000 told GBC members on September 11. However, the number of women on national publicly traded boards of directors is 14.7 percent and it’s only 8.9 percent for Maryland, she said.

According to Hrabowski, the most important aspects of a corporate board member include core business experience; general management knowledge; scientific, finance and technical skills; high ethical standards; and the right attitude and personality. What matters is substance, said Hrabowski.

It’s not just about knowing accounting, but it’s important to be able to integrate financial statements, address issues, and have a deep financial understanding of the company, said Karen Weatherholtz, president, Leadership Unlimited, LLC and retired senior vice president of McCormick & Company, Inc. A good board member comes with understanding the product or service and a breadth of experience to oversee the company without meddling in the management.

Professional board directors need to come to the table with personal courage, “business maturity,” collaborative, and supportive of management, said Weatherholz. But be independent, step back, and speak up when needed.

“Broaden your business experience as much as you can, get involved with strategic planning, take financial courses, and find a mentor,” Weatherholz explained. In addition, volunteer boards can be a good experience, since some work similarly as paid boards.

“The short-term approach should be to get the names out there of the women who are qualified for boards and then long-term-wise, we need to get that kind of experience to be on boards,” she said.

Ted Muendel, international chairman emeritus, Stanton Chase International, provided 10 steps for women to get on corporate boards, they include:

  1. Enrole in an executive MBA program on weekends and nights. The benefits are enormous.
  2. Conduct market research. What organizations can you add value to? What do you like to do?
  3. Have a sponsor. Get into the mindset of the nominating committee. Write letters providing your background and experience.
  4. Join non-profit and advisory boards. Look into how they work.
  5. Sign up with an executive firm search. Register and get into their databank.
  6. Join alumni associations.
  7. Network.
  8. Build your resume to qualify you better for corporate boards.
  9. Angle funds and have deep pockets. Companies are looking for investors.
  10. Be patient. It’s not an easy transformation, but there’s an interest and desire for diversity.

Serving on a board is an honor, but there is also a major time commitment, said Muendel.

Baltimore is a region of transition, but we have a lot of emerging technology and entrepreneurial business, said Lion Brothers, Inc. CEO Susan J. Ganz. “There’s no time to be gender or color specific when looking for competence.”

“Less than 9 percent is unacceptable [number of women on boards in Maryland], but it’s not healthy to be defensive,” Ganz said. “Let’s look forward and find new ways.”

Corporate board members need to be decision makers and have general business knowledge. “Board participation is a responsibility as well as a liability, so assess, assess, assess,” Ganz said. When researching corporate boards, it’s important to take time to look at the financial structure and make sure they are viable.

Ballantrae International, Ltd. managing director James Brady agreed that there’s no question that women bring a different perspective. He recommends that women be proactive in showing they’re a good candidate for the job. “If your background is in marketing, then look for a marketing-oriented board,” said Brady.

Being on a board is a “job” that has real responsibilities, said Brady. Board members have to be prepared to step up to the plate and stay current with the industry 24×7.

2007 Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland.

 

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