Diversity on corporate boards, a goal for savvy companies that recognize its business advantage, was the subject of a dynamic panel at the 2005 Catalyst Awards Conference, where more than 400 people gathered to discuss the latest issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Though the numbers of women on boards remain small—a 2003 Catalyst report found that just 13.6% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by women—they have been rising steadily, and the discussion focused on showing professional women how to leverage the growing interest in diverse board candidates to their advantage.
"Boards are beginning to recognize the fact that looking beyond ‘the usual suspects’ when seeking out new directors is a great way to bring a variety of perspectives to the table, which is key to gaining competitiveadvantage," explained Deborah M. Soon, Catalyst’s Vice President of Executive Leadership Initiatives and moderator of the panel session. "At the same time, there are many women out there who are qualified for board membership, but don’t know what it takes to get on their first board, or what to expect when they get there."
The panel was part of an annual day-long Conference presented by Catalyst, the leading organization working to expand opportunities for women in business. The panelists offered the "inside scoop" on what board membership entails. Major emphasis was placed on board membership as a business development opportunity, both for women—who were advised to focus on networking for their own visibility and advancement, not just for business—and for companies, who increasingly focus on board diversity as a way to mirror their shareholder base.
The panelists shared their insider knowledge and experience as current and former board directors. They included Rebeca María Barerra, President of the National Latino Children’s Institute and a member of the board of Scholastic; Jill Kanin-Lovers, who sits on the boards of Alpharama, Dot Foods, and Heidrick & Struggles; Gwendolyn S. King, President of Podium Prose LLC and a board member of Lockheed Martin, Marsh & McLennan and Monsanto; and Roger W. Raber, President and CEO of the National Association of Corporate Directors.
The discussion also looked at the business imperative for board diversity. "Expanding opportunities for women to get on public boards isn’t just great for women," said Soon. "Companies will benefit from the fresh infusion of qualified people and more creative thinking, as well."
Catalyst is the leading research and advisory organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work. As an independent, nonprofit membership organization, Catalyst uses a solutions-oriented approach that has earned the confidence of business leaders around the world. Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women’s career advancement and provides strategic consulting services on a global basis to help companies and firms advance women and build inclusive environments. In addition, we honor exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with our annual Catalyst Award. With offices in New York City, San Jose, California, and Toronto, Catalyst is consistently ranked No. 1 among U.S. nonprofits focused on women’s issues by The American Institute of Philanthropy. For more information, please visit www.catalystwomen.org.