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3 Steps to Add More Women Leaders to Your Company's Executive Board

Widen your scope, expand your network and support other women.

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Executive boards made up of corporate leaders and entrepreneurs play an important role in a startup’s ability to attract investors and create the best environment for growth.   

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

A board helps bring in established experience in areas where a company needs advice and guidance. It also establishes policies for corporate management and oversight, helps make decisions on company issues, and creates short- and long-term strategies.

While there are a lot of factors to consider when creating a board, one of the main focuses should be on gender diversity. The reason is simple: Women have become more of a driving force as business leaders and consumers -- yet they remain minorities on most company boards.  

Related: After This Entrepreneur Stood Up to Her Board, Her Sales Quadrupled and the Business Exploded

Women make up close to 50 percent of the workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. However, women occupy only 20.2 percent of all board seats at Fortune 500 companies, according to a 2017 report from Catalyst and Deloitte.

As a female CPA and corporate executive myself, I have firsthand knowledge of being the only woman on a leadership team and helping advise startup companies who struggled with this lack of diversity. Without diversity of thought, companies miss the key insights from women that can help them grow and thrive. This is an especially missed opportunity for startups who need to attract investors and collect the best thinkers and leaders.

How should businesses approach adding more women to their executive boards? Here are some strategies from experts that I know in this area on what steps you should take as a business to change the paradigm and mistakes you should avoid when going through the process.

1. Widen your scope. 

It is not possible to move the needle on gender parity in the boardroom without looking beyond the typical backgrounds of board members, says Coco Brown, founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance, which helps match executive women and companies with filling board seats. She points out that women are less than 6 percent of CEOs and less than 11 percent of CFOs, but they fill many other senior-level roles that many boards lack, such as chief marketing officers, chief channel officers, chief human resources officer and chief information officers. 

Related: 9 Tips for Succeeding as a Woman in a Male-Dominated World

2. Expand your network.

Men at the top already know men at the top. If you want to know women at the top, you need to expand your circles and reach out to women in national executive leadership organizations, such as the National Association for Female Executives, the Network of Executive Women, Women Corporate Directors and the Athena Alliance.

3. Support your top women. 

If you want more top women on your board, begin grooming your own. Women in VP level roles and higher need to be nurtured to be interested in board service. Share the value of being on boards, help them become visible in the right circles, and promote their leaderships skills.  

Avoid these mistakes.

Investors are looking for specific diversity, says Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView Venture Partners, an expansion stage venture capital firm. They also want people with different backgrounds in terms of education, career path, industry experience and age.

“Ultimately, investors tend to avoid a company where the whole team has a similar background and profile, no matter how impressive that background may be in terms of diversity,” says Bartlett. “A bunch of unique perspectives will help you achieve a global maximum rather than a smaller, more local one.”

Related: Why Investing in Diverse Companies Will Keep Future Mistakes at Bay

This is such a widely accepted understanding that large investors like BlackRock, Inc. are voting against public boards that are not moving toward this kind of diversity. 

Another common mistake startups make when looking for female board members is rushing the process. “Tokenism happens when you cut corners on candidate quality in order to hit an arbitrary or unrealistic timeline” says Bartlett. You can avoid this is by acknowledging that the search may take longer than expected. You need to prioritize long-term strategic impact over short-term goal attainment.

While a corporate board can be a valuable asset for companies from the startup stage to more mature businesses, its makeup can send the loudest signal to investors and customers about how your company operates and innovates. Recruiting more women from different backgrounds demonstrates that you are open to different ways of thinking to achieve the best results and provide value to your company in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

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