July 12th, 2022

The percentage of women in the boardroom is growing, but boards are still far from diverse. Even when women have the skills necessary to get to the C-suite, they may now know how that experience translates to the boardroom or how to effectively frame their experience to pitch themselves for board opportunities. 

To empower women to strive for boardroom positions, changes need to be made that combine support and boardroom education to prepare women for the unique challenges they’ll face in boardroom positions. This guide shares specific steps organizations can take to prepare women for boardroom roles and support them throughout the journey. 

Support Highly Qualified Women Candidates

Women are generally more inclined than men to let their qualifications, credentials, and experience speak for themselves. In fact, women will only apply for a position if they meet all the qualifications in a job listing whereas men will apply if they meet 50-60%. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Human Relations explains that women tend to fall victim to self-imposed barriers that include gendered modesty and underselling their strengths. For instance, women tend to downplay success, giving credit for their success to their team, whereas men will list accomplishments as personal achievements in job interviews. As a result, many women make it to the shortlist and lose to the male candidate in line for the role. 

All too often, people hire those they know best. As the typical board director is a 60+-year-old white male executive, that means other 60+ white male executives will be at the top of the list when it’s time to recruit. To create a place for women in the boardroom, we need to widen our applicant pool and establish trusted networks where qualified women executives can be found.

Women should be actively sponsored for the role in the C-suite. Because women are more likely to underestimate their qualifications, company leaders need to be more proactive in recruiting women for C-suite roles. When company leaders identify qualified women for leadership roles and encourage them to develop their skills and broaden their impact, more women are likely to feel confident reaching the boardroom.

Prepare Women for Leadership Roles

Often, organizations explain their lack of diversity in the boardroom is due to fewer women in upper management being board-ready. When organizations fail to support and develop women for these roles, a gender gap will persist.

Organizations that encourage women to believe in themselves, be intentional about their career paths, and negotiate for themselves will evolve more quickly to include women in the boardroom. An active mentorship program can position more women candidates to achieve sponsorships and compete for board seats. Create programs and tap into networking communities to help women grow in their careers

Women should be encouraged to make decisions and take risks without fear of prejudice. Preparing women for leadership roles may include offering challenging roles or projects, creating initiatives that place women in leadership training, and encouraging them to interview for boards to elevate their visibility (offering a return for your company as well). By creating a nurturing environment for women, organizations can remove unconscious gender bias and eliminate self-imposed barriers that prevent women from reaching the top ranks of leadership.

Set the Organizational Tone

Like most company-wide behavior, the expectations for women within any organization begin at the top. To be effective, existing board members, together with the CEO of the company, must be intentional and actively engaged in bringing more women to the table. The role of the chairman is to see the big picture and support gender equality in the boardroom. This includes embedding DEI into board-level conversations and setting DEI metrics. Taking those metrics even further to utilize them for executive compensation and pushing for greater diversity in board and executive hiring will provide even more of an impact. By taking active steps to encourage and sponsor women, the chairman can send the message to women candidates that the hiring process will encourage actively recruiting women.

Vote for a Lasting Change

Board chairs should take rapid action toward gender parity. Diverse boards make better decisions reflective of the companies they serve. When women are included on executive committees, the average return on equity improves by 47%, and average earnings improve by 55%. By acknowledging how diversity yields improved performance and creating a plan for change, boards can create a more welcoming environment.

Get clear on where your organization stands today on diversity. Define where you want to be and set measurable goals to get there. Encourage your board to find and vote to elect qualified women to fill board seats and key executive positions. 

A boardroom that welcomes women is more likely to achieve gender diversity across the organization. Although many companies recognize that there need to be three women on a board or executive team to reap the full benefits, this goal often goes unmet. Getting started with your first diverse director is great, but they often become silenced by the majority and don’t reach their full potential. There is strength in numbers, and more benefits of diversity will be recognized with stronger hiring practices.

Create Role Models

Creating strong female role models within the company empowers other women to seek pathways that lead to boardroom positions. When women see other women in the boardroom, they see it as an achievable goal they can work toward. Moreover, women should guide and support other aspiring women to seek challenging goals and find ways to gain the experience to reach them. Female role models show both men and women that women can successfully hold boardroom and other leadership positions. As women in the boardroom become more commonplace, role models emerge that change the status quo and the expectations of up-and-coming company leaders and board members. 

Women make up half of the population and are a critical part of the workforce. However, the gender pay gap still occurs across practically all occupations and industries. While the number of women in FTSE 100 boardroom roles has jumped to 39.1%, the number is only reflective of a fraction of US businesses. Women are the sole source of income in 40% of US households and make 85% of all purchasing decisions. This means boardrooms without women directors fail to understand the voice and needs of their customers.

The time for diversity in the boardroom is now. Without it, organizations will likely fail to match the innovation and performance of their competitors. To prepare women for boardroom roles, it’s essential to create organizational cultures that empower women and support their efforts to strive for their highest leadership goals. As companies, boards, and governments move to promote gender diversity, it’s crucial to encourage women to develop and hone leadership skills for more diverse organizations.

The modern boardroom is changing. Learn how Athena helps women rise into the boardroom through a powerful network and live and on-demand board education. And, learn how Athena can help your company advance a cohort of its top women leaders.



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