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Thank you, Rockefeller Foundation for Supporting the Catalyst Women On Board™ US Initiative

January 27, 2017We’ve got some great news! The Rockefeller Foundation has granted Catalyst $100,000 to expand our Catalyst Women On Board™ initiative throughout the United States. This generous support will help Catalyst shine a light on the lagging representation of women on boards and throughout executive ranks—which is widely recognized as a global economic imperative—as well as showcase a solution. The Catalyst Women On Board™ program works: nearly 60% of the alumnae have already been appointed to corporate boards.

From our perspective, here’s the lay of the land and how the lack of gender diversity in US boardrooms impacts us all:

Enough of the Status Quo
Women make up almost half of the US workforce, earn the majority of advanced degrees, and represent a significant customer base for many companies; why wouldn’t a company want to reflect its talent pool and its customers? Doing so also makes good business sense. For over a decade, Catalyst research, as well as that of many other companies, has demonstrated that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. Given the important role that boards play—in setting the strategic direction and priorities of the companies that provide our everyday services and needs—shouldn’t we expect them to reflect the diversity of America?

Gender Parity Is a Must
The facts speak for themselves: Only about 20% of S&P 500 board seats are held by women; in other words, almost four out of every five directors is a man. For aspiring women board directors it’s about being a “known quantity” to corporate board directors. Most director positions are filled through the networks of sitting directors. Their networks may not be as diverse, and when the conversation turns to “who do you know,” many women may not be top of mind. We know at Catalyst, to paraphrase a popular expression, that where there’s an intention, there’s a way. Companies that have made it a goal to increase the diversity of their boards have done so. Companies who have struggled to achieve that goal need to broaden their networks. It’s simply a myth that there’s not a supply of exceptional women director candidates. The better question is: are the companies really looking?

Women of Color Are Nearly Invisible
We see new efforts around boards making a priority of diversity, and expect to see diverse candidates make up a larger proportion of new director appointments in 2017. However, women of color are nearly invisible on S&P 500 boards. Catalyst research shows that women of color are more likely to hold multiple board seats, meaning that the same pool of women of color candidates is tapped for board service. This places women of color candidates in a unique catch-22: in order to serve on a board, they need to already be on a board. 

Clearly, these are serious challenges that need to be addressed immediately, but we’re optimistic. There’s a renewed momentum around change for women’s advancement at workplaces and throughout society. And, most important, we’ve witnessed an uptick of more CEOs and board chairs stepping up to sponsor women through the Catalyst Women On Board™ initiative; just recently, a participant in our first US class was appointed to a board.

“Catalyst is a trusted, respected voice advocating for gender equity in the boardroom, and The Rockefeller Foundation is proud to support the work of the Women on Board initiative to accelerate change for women at the highest level of business leadership,” said Laura Gordon, managing director at The Rockefeller Foundation.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s grant will go a long way to help expand and amplify our efforts to ensure exceptional women candidates connect with board opportunities.