September 2018 | Point of View

Inspiring and preparing women for corporate board service

Inspiring and preparing women for corporate board service

As our business has grown – we recently crossed the 1,000-employee milestone – West Monroe’s Board of Directors has considered how it needs to evolve in order to provide the right level of oversight for the firm we have become and the firm we aspire to be in the future.

We recently launched an initiative to add several qualified external members to our board, which to this point has largely been comprised of our own executives. Our “wish list” included a combination of professional services leadership experience, exposure to a growing a technology-based organization, financial acumen, and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding and appreciation of how important culture is in our profession and to our firm.

While our first priority was finding the right mix of qualifications, we also wanted to make sure that we were adding board members who could bring new perspectives and fresh thinking to the table. We took very deliberate steps to find and evaluate a diverse slate of candidates both from a demographic and experience perspective, sourced both by a search firm and through our board members’ own professional networks. Ultimately, we added two new members to our board over the past few months, and both new members happen to be women.

2018 will be record-breaking for women joining boards of directors

Indeed, there has been a lot of discussion recently around increasing the representation of women on corporate boards. I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that projects 2018 will be a “record year” for women joining boards of directors. According to an analysis of corporate filings by ISS Analytics, the data arm of Institutional Shareholder Services, nearly 250 women became new directors at the country’s 3,000 largest publicly traded companies during the first five months of the year – representing nearly a third of new board appointments.

That’s great news and good progress. I know there are even more success stories of women joining the boards of growing private companies, like ours, that aren’t tracked publicly. The opportunities are out there, and many companies appear to be pushing to change and diversify the face of corporate governance.

Women who make it to the top don't get there alone

In turn, we as organizations need to continue doing all we can to inspire women to corporate board service and prepare them to seize these opportunities. No one – man or woman – will be a good candidate for a corporate board seat without relevant senior leadership experience that includes operational oversight, profit and loss responsibility, and participation in strategy and investment decisions. Overall, we still have a long way to go to solve the challenge of advancing more women into positions that provide such experience and, thus, a springboard for consideration for as a corporate director.

Build a community of women, and help them take the next step

As a firm, we are passionate about developing the next generation of leaders. That mission, of course, extends to everyone, but we need to be especially conscious of what we are doing to inspire and prepare women to become senior leaders and, eventually, directors. Here are some things we can do:

We can begin planting the seeds as our most junior women set out to build their personal brands, relationships, and networks.

  1. We can make sure that women at all levels have regular exposure to senior leaders and directors so that they can envision themselves in such roles. In consulting, our people have the unique chance to work with management teams and boards at many types of organizations. We can create similar opportunities for exposure internally, as well; for example, by encouraging participation on a committee that reports to our board.
  2. We can double down on our efforts to retain women at the stages of life when they are juggling career (often, managerial roles with increasing responsibility) and family.

  3. We can make sure that as women do advance in management, their roles offer the necessary P&L and other experiences.

  4. We can help connect women with the growing array of external resources that prepare them for board service, such as the Women Board Directors Development Program at the University of Washington.

  5. We can be proactive in helping our emerging women leaders find and pursue appropriate corporate board opportunities – perhaps starting as directors at private companies as a step toward public board service.

  6. Lastly, we can stimulate dialogue internally and in the business community – such as we did recently by co-sponsoring a panel called “Lead Like a Woman: The Journey Toward Board Service” with Ellevate in Seattle – to promote interest in board service.

As a senior leader at West Monroe and a member of our Board, I have often been one of a few women in a room full of men. Adding two new female board members is powerful and inspiring to me – and I know it is for the women at all levels of our organization, as well.

Ready to get started? Explore opportunities at West Monroe.