How to Get More Women on Corporate Boards

February 1, 2018

Only 14.7 percent of U.S. corporate board members were women in 2015, according to financial services company Credit Suisse

Research has shown that the more women a company has in leadership positions, the better it does. So how can we explain and then address such a low percentage of female participation at the highest position of leadership, the boardroom?

A number of initiatives and organizations aim to increase the participation of women on corporate boards and to educate skeptics

A successful technique in the initiatives pairs seasoned corporate board members, men and women, with high-potential women to create interest in preparing them to join boards or explore other development. These programs are designed to raise the visibility of qualified women leaders and give them access at companies who can benefit from women board membership.

Companies with Women Win

Companies with higher female board participation rates achieve stronger financial performance. According to a report from Catalyst, a nonprofit group focused on creating inclusive workplaces for women, companies with three or more women board directors outperformed others by 84 percent on return on sales (ROS), 60 percent on return on invested capital (ROIC) and 46 percent on return on equity (ROE).

Catalyst takes the business case for women in the boardroom further, stressing that diversity will help companies:

  • Improve financial performance
  • Leverage talent
  • Reflect the marketplace and build a reputation
  • Increase innovation and group performance

Mentoring Is a Great Start

“There is nothing like a great mentor — someone who can guide you and provide honest, real-time, practical advice,” says Jackie Stone, CMO of MiMedia in Medium. “Mentors don’t judge your thoughts, ideas or dreams — they help you achieve them. My mentors have guided me to new opportunities and pushed me to take risks.”

You don’t have to be a CEO or senior leader to help women advance. Women and men at all levels can mentor women into leadership roles throughout a company.

Women interested in becoming mentors can join local mentoring programs or become involved with local and national women in business organizations, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) or the Ellevate Network.

Another way to create board-level experience is by volunteering to be on nonprofit boards. This can also help women acquire the desired board-level experience on a small scale.

In smaller nonprofits, board positions are frequently offered to committed volunteers who’ve demonstrated leadership skills. Identifying causes or organizations you support and taking a more active role within the nonprofit can be a stepping-stone to a board position.

Organizations That Can Help

On a national level, organizations have been established to help get women in line for corporate board opportunities. The efforts are two-pronged: preparing women for roles on corporate boards and helping corporate boards identify and connect with qualified female candidates.

Women who aspire to sit on corporate boards can join one or more of these programs.

  • Catalyst Women On Board: It pairs mentors and sponsors who already hold board-of-directors positions at U.S. and Canadian corporations with strong female candidates for board positions. Catalyst has also developed a searchable directory Women On Board Source.
  • DirectWomen: This nonprofit was established to help find corporate board positions for female lawyers.
  • The Boston Club: This organization calls itself a club and a cause. It’s devoted to advancing women leaders and increasing women on corporate boards.
  • The Leader’s Edge: This professional development organization strives to assist women board members in becoming more effective. It also helps organizations searching for women board members.
  • Thirty Percent Coalition: The goal of the Thirty Percent Coalition is to “promote gender diversity, including women of color, on corporate boards.” As its name suggests, the coalition is committed to making at least 30 percent of all corporate board members women.
  • Women in the Boardroom: In addition to announcing available board positions to its members, Women in the Boardroom grooms senior-level women to assume board-level responsibilities.
  • Women on Boards Initiative: The Forté Foundation has partnered with leading organizations to identify and promote qualified senior female leadership. The result is a list of board-ready women. Women who are nominated and determined to be qualified are added to Forté’s Global Board-Ready Women List.


Corporations that have taken positive steps to increase the participation of women to their boards have seen significant improvements in corporate financial performance.

In some organizations, the challenge appears to be identifying and preparing qualified board candidates.

That’s where both mentorship and related initiatives come in, making the right connections and opening doors to greater female board participation.

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