Despite many initiatives for diversity in the workplace, the place that seems to be still impenetrable is the Board Room. Here the macho Chair will not want to listen to other opinions, especially spoken in a woman’s voice. After all, the other directors may just be “rubberstamp,” token board members who collect large per diem allowances and who say “aye, aye sir” to the Chair.
And this happens in many family boards as well as publicly-listed companies’ boards. It’s because there is no consciousness about diversity, making the subject relevant only in 17% of our boardrooms in the country. Sometimes, even women chairs declare “meritocracy” as the entrance pass and will snub ideas about needing to include women for diversity as a goal.
We recently established an organization to gather women who have been fortunately selected to join corporate boards and it is called NOWCD or the NextGen Organization of Women Corporate Directors (www.nowcdphils.com). We would like to increase the number of women in boards across the publicly-listed companies to at least 25% (having women on board) over the next two years. How will we do this? Well, we have to get to know more women who are willing to serve in boards after retirement from the C-Suite or even during their best years as career women serving as consultants to various firms.
Imagine the number of women executives who have about 20 years of experience in an industry tucked under their belts yet retire quietly to become homemakers or inactive bystanders. Imagine all that wealth of information and experience they have which is data that could go to waste. Imagine the wisdom gained over the years which will not be put to good use.
This is why we need to check the pipeline of young women charting a path in a business career, whose end goal after a fruitful time in management would be to serve in boards. In the past, we could count the women in boards just with our two hands because it was not a path many chose or thought to be possible. But today there are global alliances, networks of women who believe in the same goals.
NOWCD is the Philippine chapter of Women Corporate Directors International (www.womencorporatedirectors.org) and members are offered not just board seats in the country but in other locations as well. So, it would be a good move for our career women in the executive suite to start thinking of a board seat as a future plan.
After our recent elections I was very pleased to see many women executives in government, too. We have a lot of lady mayors, Congress representatives, governors, and even senators. These public servants can also help corporate boards, especially NGOs, when their terms expire or when they wish to continue their service to the public, albeit in a private capacity.
Women corporate directors are also important in NGOs because these organizations need sustainability, too. And a diverse board has been studied and proven as a key to staying power especially for non-profits. It is not because women are the stronger sex, but women do contribute a different perspective in decision-making. Male and female brains are wired differently and approaches to problem-solving can be better and faster when there are opposing or diverse opinions which make for a healthy discourse.
So, how do we now inspire women mid-level executives to aspire to become board directors? We must show them models to emulate. There are just a handful of women who serve on boards which is why you may see familiar names in various annual reports of PLCs. But this is not their fault. In fact, some multilaterals limit the number of directorships one can hold but due to a perceived dearth of women directors, the same names come up when a search is made in the different industries.
NOWCD now has over 30 members but we would like to grow steadily to include, hopefully, all PLCs and NGOs. Meantime we will endeavor to attract more women to join our group so they can be included in a roster such as that of the Institute of Corporate Directors (www.icd.ph) which lists both male and female graduates of its Professional Directorship course who then call themselves Fellows of ICD or FICD appended to their names.
My personal mission is to influence the non-believers or those who are not even conscious that their boards are too male or too old, or, put simply, could use some diversity in gender and age. If you check the boards of progressive companies, they do mix gender, age, and experience especially in relevant fields like health, tech, and digitalization. It is no longer about keeping it within the family, or appointing only next of kin to board seats. After all, stakeholders now care who sits on the board. Shareholders also look at the corporation’s ESG policies and these of course prescribe diversity.
So, if you want to make a checklist of how your company is performing, check your Board composition first. Maybe it’s the only thing you need to do to make a real difference in your industry. Or make a difference in your kind of leadership.
Then check your competition. Maybe they found the secret sauce sooner and now have diverse boards. It’s time to play catch up. And start at the top.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Chit U. Juan is a member of the MAP Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and the MAP Agribusiness Committee. She is chair of the Philippine Coffee Board, councilor of Slow Food for Southeast Asia, and is an advocate for organic agriculture.