byJeffery Tobias Halteron Oct 02, 2016

Leadership: It's Required to Advance Women

mountain climber at summit

Photo credit:Creative Commons

"If you were told it would take over 50 years to achieve a business objective would you accept it?"

- Ken Chenault, CEO and Chairman, American Express #womensforumny.

This remark was one of the opening salvos of the New York Women’s Forum Breakfast of Corporate Champions. This breakfast was a gathering of 650 top leaders across the global Fortune 500 and the topic was getting more women into corporate Board seats. As Janice Ellig, Co-CEO of Chadick Ellig and a Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative noted in her opening remarks, "Women hold only 19% of S&P board seats. At the current rate we will achieve parity in 75 years." As Mr. Chenault reinforced, this is simply not acceptable.

This breakfast was merely one of the over 15 women’s leadership events I attended in a 90-day period. The gathering was designed to salute companies leading the way to gender balance on corporate boards with at least 20% of board seats held by women. The program also featured a panel discussion with CEOs and leading business executives on why having more women on boards is a strategic business imperative. This event is exactly what ‘Leadership in Advancing Women’  looks like.

Not surprisingly, leadership is one of the 4 things that companies needs to do to advance women. As I’ve noted before, there are 4 things your company needs to do to advance women: Listen, Learn, Lead and Have the Will to Change. Let’s take a closer look at Leading.


Leadership starts at the top of organizations. If you read literally any best practice of advancing women articles, visible, vocal leadership is always a critical characteristic of winning cultures and companies.

Almost 30 companies were recognized as Corporate Champions having over 40% of their Board being women. Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s, was presented with the Muriel F. Siebert award for his leadership in championing diversity. In his acceptance remarks he noted, "Change comes from the partnership of company commitment and personal leadership," Lundgren continued.

            “It is simply irresponsible for companies with women as consumers not to have women on boards.”

Twenty-eight companies crossed the threshold with 40% or more women on boards including Aetna, Procter & Gamble, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Unisys and Xerox. Still this is less than 3% of the Global Fortune 1000! (Which means over 970 companies have a long way to go to get close to parity.)

Why do we need more women on boards? It’s simply good for business as noted by Catalyst!

  • Return on Equity: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent.
  • Return on Sales: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors. outperformed those with the least by 42 percent.
  • Return on Invested Capital: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 percent.

One final comment from the breakfast really hit the mark as to why companies need more women on boards.

“I’m often asked, what’s the business case for women on boards. No one ever asks me what’s the ROI for another white male on my board? Women are 50% of the workforce and 80% consumers. It just makes good business sense.”

Leading Every Day

Most of us will never be asked for recommendations to fill board seats and it’s great to see major companies taking a stand. For most leaders, the challenge is to demonstrate Leadership in Advancing Women in our everyday jobs. There are five things every leader needs to do to demonstrate commitment in this space. This is not an all-encompassing list but simple things you can do to incorporate elements into your department’s operating routine.

1. Develop and talk about your department’s business case. Your middle managers need to know why the company is doing this and how it affects them and their department and also the need to be able to talk-the-talk with their team.

2. Manically manage talent. The war for talent is real and you cannot afford to lose a single woman, minority, millennial or white male in today’s competitive environment.

3. Ask the tough questions, hold people accountable. This is what leaders do. If advancing women is a business priority in your company, you need to track success (or failure) and hold people accountable.

4. Develop your cultural competency. Men and women are having very different experiences in the workplace. Commit to learning more on the topic.

5. Symbolic gestures & systemic changes. Learn what it takes to be a champion, and then have the WILL to do it!

This last key element may be the most important driver of success.

This piece was originally published on LinkedIn. 

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country's leading male expert on advancing women and engaging men. He is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women's leadership issues. Jeffery is a TEDx speaker, Huffington Post Blogger and the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women. Keep in touch @YWomen.


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