Gift From Top Businesswoman to Help GWU Promote Board Diversity

By Pamela J. Bethel

According to a recent blog item in the Washington Business Journal, successful businesswoman Linda Rabbitt has made a substantial financial gift to the George Washington University School of Business to establish an executive education program designed to increase the number of women on corporate boards.

This is a stubborn problem. According to current data from Catalyst, a consulting firm, women make up only 16 percent of board members of publicly held companies in the United States.

Rabbitt, founder and CEO of D.C.-based Rand Construction Corp. and one of the top women in the construction industry, has adopted the issue of women on boards as her own. She holds a master’s degree from GWU and in 2008 was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame.

Rabbitt’s gift will enable the business school, in partnership with the International Women’s Forum, to create a two-year executive graduate-level program for mid-career female executives to prepare them to be outstanding candidates to serve on the board of public companies. The school hopes to launch the first class in 2013.

A great many reasons have been advanced for the relative lack of women on corporate boards in the United States. Last year, an article in The Economist created a stir by contending that a major “obstacle to putting more women in boardrooms is that so many struggle to balance work and a family.”

Other reasons that have been put forward include a lack of mentoring by others who have reached board positions and a dearth of CEO’s who are women. As of now, only 3.9 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies have women CEO’s. Many board members are named from among the ranks of former CEO’s of major companies.

We hope that the new program at GWU will bear fruit. After all, having women on a corporate board is good business.

The same Economist article that said work-family balance might be the problem also stated: “There is a powerful business case for hiring more women to run companies. They are more likely to understand the tastes and aspirations of the largest group of consumers in the world, namely women. They represent an underfished pool of talent. And there is evidence that companies with more women in top jobs perform better than those run by men only.”


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