Why So Few Women on Corporate Boards? Some Experts Speak Out

Recently, the AS/COA Women’s Hemispheric Network, which promotes the economic empowerment of women in business and other professions in the Western Hemisphere, asked six senior-level women why the appointment of women to corporate boards has been so slow in coming and what needs to be done to pave the way for increased equality in the boardroom. Their perspectives were very interesting, to say the least.

As we’ve discussed here before, women continue to hold only 16 percent of board seats in the United States. It’s even worse in Latin America — only 5.6 percent.

A summary of the responses by these six high-level women can be found here, and they make interesting reading. Among the replies were the following:

Grace Lieblein, Vice President, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, General Motors: “If you look on boards, one of the primary reasons we are not seeing more women joining them is that typically they are looking for candidates who either have board experience or are leading large operations. We are locked in a kind of vicious circle: Because there aren’t many women on boards today and also not enough women in CEO or in key positions, they aren’t seen as natural candidates for joining boards.”

Ilene H. Lang, President and Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst: “Let’s talk about what’s not holding women back. It’s not lack of CEO experience. Almost half of Fortune 500 board seats in 2011 are occupied by directors without CEO experience. And it’s not a supply problem with respect to board-ready women. If you look at only one potential source of directors—current Executive Officers of Fortune 500 companies—you will find over 700 women, enough to fill every board seat that comes available in the next year (with women to spare). When you consider that boards often seek directors with international expertise, and you add women in top leadership positions at companies in just four countries (Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Israel), your pool expands to over 2,000 women.”

Susan Segal, President and CEO, Americas Society and Council of the Americas: “One of the key reasons is an unwillingness to take a risk. Existing CEOs, boards, and headhunters appear unwilling to take the risk to incorporate new people and different perspectives—so the easy path is just more of the same: same pool of candidates, same process, and same ideas. Women must also take some responsibility for the current dilemma. They must promote themselves better and proactively find mentors willing to fight for them inside and outside of their companies. Women also need to network more effectively and aggressively, while standing up for their goals and ideas.”

Although there’s no single cause for the problem, it’s about time that corporations took some positive action to identify women who can serve on their boards. It’s simply good business.

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