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Advancing women to the boardroom is good for business

A Denver campaign is calling on local leaders to diversify their boards


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In 2010, fed up with the lack of women on company boards, a group of women in Boston started a grassroots campaign to build public awareness and momentum around the issue of board diversity. At the time, women represented only 10% of board members on the Russell 3000 Index (R3000). So, the group (appropriately named 2020 Women on Boards) set a goal to increase the percentage of women on U.S. company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020. 

While the organization has met its goal nationally, Colorado-based companies have yet to reach 20%, with only 17.8% of Colorado companies having one or more women on their board. 2020 Women on Boards has 26 campaigns across the country, with Denver being one of its newest. (It’s also worth noting that, while the national campaign may need to rebrand after meeting its goal, it will continue pursuing diverse board representation.) 

The Denver 2020 Women on Boards campaign started just last year and is co-chaired by Paula Hendrickson — who is currently acting as the board chair of the Positive Coaching Alliance and as a board member on the Foundation Board of Western Colorado University — and Meme Callnin — who is currenting serving in a board advisory role for ThrivePass and Wellthy, on the Executive Committee and Chair of the Audience Development Committee and on the executive leadership team for the Denver Go Red for Women Campaign. 

“It’s interesting because I think of Colorado as innovative and ahead of the curve on many things, particularly on diversity and inclusion, but we’re very much behind on this,” Hendrickson says.  

This week, the campaign is hosting a sold out event at the University of Denver to help grow support of the campaign. The event will include a panel discussion on the importance of having diverse boards, an overview of the national and local problem as well as networking. 

“Colorado is well-positioned for growth. This event both challenges companies and provides them with the awareness and knowledge to create a plan for recruiting more women onto their boards,” Callnin says. “Colorado companies are ready to up their game and close the 2-percentage point gap between the national average.”

Educating Corporations and Women 

The campaign’s primary means of achieving its goal is through education — both by educating organizations on the power of having a diversified board as well as educating women and providing them resources to get board-ready and develop the necessary skills for their resumes. The Denver campaign recommends Boardbound, a program of theWomen’s Leadership Foundation, which matches women in leadership roles with open board positions. 

Though there are certain steps that women can take to be “board-ready” —  serving on a nonprofit board, having skill sets across HR, finance and more — getting women on boards also requires opportunity. “It’s women having the skill-sets, it’s women raising their hands, having the confidence to be on boards and then having a board position open up — that’s the opportunity,” Hendrickson says. 

For companies wanting to increase female participation on the board, Callnin offers the following steps: "First, they should set goals and create a strategic plan for diversifying their board. For example, leaders can create an additional board position or as the board turns over, develop a plan to diversify as it fills vacant spots. Next, business leaders can turn to external organizations that provide resources and perform board searches for support like executive search firms, women’s business organizations, trade associations and local university alumni groups."

And for women who want to serve on a board in their career, Callnin points not only to education, but also to networking. "Networking and tapping into your own personal connections are still the best places to start when expressing interest in joining a board or recruiting a woman to join your board," she says.

Overall, the reason the campaign's mission is important, Hendrickson says, is because diversity and advancing women’s careers to the boardroom is good for business. When boards are diverse, companies are more likely to have higher profitability, productivity and workforce engagement. Board diversity also creates a healthier workplace culture capable of addressing the dilemmas of the 21st century workplace including pay disparities, sexual harrassement, discrimination and more.

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Ali Longwell

Ali Longwell is the digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She has also written for SDxCentral, a B2B online technology publication, as well as Denver-area lifestyle magazines 5280, Denver Life Magazine, Avid Lifestyle and more. She can be reached at alongwell@cobizmag.com

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