How Can We Increase the Number of Women on Corporate Boards?


Consider this–women hold approximately 16% of board seats in the United States, 7.2% in emerging markets, and just 5.6% in Latin America. That’s despite the fact that there has been so much discussion about the need for boardroom diversity and more diversity in the C-suites, particularly for women to fill more of these positions. Despite the focus, we’ve only taken small steps.

AS/COA and Women’s Hemispheric Network asked six senior-level women to answer a simple question. What can be done to increase the number of women on corporate boards? Their perspectives about how we can get closer to boardroom equality are incredibly insightful. You can read their complete answers on the AS/COA website, but following are some great quotes to get you thinking:

Adele Gulfo, Pfizer, Regional President, Latin America

“Before we see a trend-break in the percentage of women in the boardroom, we need to solve the “leaky pipeline” that diminishes the potential talent pool. Start by encouraging women to find “sponsors,” not “mentors.” Simply put, mentors help you personally, acting as a coach and helping with decisions or challenges. But sponsors have significant influence inside an organization and advocate on your behalf, especially when high profile assignments are being discussed and names considered. Getting more women on boards begins with getting more women in mission-critical P&L roles. And sponsorship is critical to opening doors to these jobs.”

Grace Lieblein, Vice President, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, General Motors

“If you look on boards, one of the primary reasons we are not seeing more women joining them is that typically they are looking for candidates who either have board experience or are leading large operations. We are locked in a kind of vicious circle: Because there aren’t many women on boards today and also not enough women in CEO or in key positions, they aren’t seen as natural candidates for joining boards.”

Ilene H. Lang, President and Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst

“Let’s talk about what’s not holding women back. It’s not lack of CEO experience. Almost half of F500 board seats in 2011 are occupied by directors without CEO experience. And it’s not a supply problem with respect to board-ready women. If you look at only one potential source of directors—current Executive Officers of F500 companies—you will find over 700 women, enough to fill every board seat that comes available in the next year (with women to spare). When you consider that boards often seek directors with international expertise, and you add women in top leadership positions at companies in just four countries (Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Israel), your pool expands to over 2,000 women.

“So why the lack of progress? Men join boards every year at a higher rate than women. When Catalyst analyzed new appointments to F500 board seats from 2009 to 2011, we found that men filled 81 percent of the new seats! Thus, women’s appointments to boards have only been sufficient to maintain the status quo, rather than move the needle.”

Liz Mohn, Vice-Chairwoman, Bertelsmann Foundation

“For many women it remains difficult to have it all: career, children, partner, and household. And major decisions on all those issues often come to the fore between the ages of 30 and 40—the “rush hour” of life. For many people, especially mothers, rush hour is all day. A woman’s work is never done, as they say. It is here that employers must play a role. They must move away from office time towards flexible working hours and focus on results. By doing so, organizations and their leaders can serve to encourage women.”

Rossana Fuentes Berain, Editorial Vice President, Grupo Editorial Expansión

“A major initiative is needed to bridge the gender gap and use it as one of the variables to measure a country’s competitiveness. What is the path for achieving it? Education, mentoring, and support in the careers of women must be a priority to improve conditions for diversity in the business world, and make way for a generation that has been prepared and is ready. There are no excuses.”

Susan Segal, President and CEO, Americas Society and Council of the Americas

“One of the key reasons is an unwillingness to take a risk. Existing CEOs, boards, and headhunters appear unwilling to take the risk to incorporate new people and different perspectives—so the easy path is just more of the same: same pool of candidates, same process, and same ideas.

“Women must also take some responsibility for the current dilemma. They must promote themselves better and proactively find mentors willing to fight for them inside and outside of their companies. Women also need to network more effectively and aggressively, while standing up for their goals and ideas.”

What do you think can be done to increase the number of women on boards? You can follow the link below to read the complete insights from each of these female executives and learn more about AS/COA.

Get the details: Viewpoints: What Can Be Done to Increase the Number of Women on Boards? via



Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Women on Business. She is a 20-year veteran of the marketing field and has authored ten books about marketing, branding, and social media, including the highly popular 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing for Dummies, Blogging All-in-One for Dummies and Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps. Susan’s marketing-related content can be found on,,,, and more. Susan is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has worked in corporate marketing roles and through client relationships with AT&T, HSBC, Citibank, Intuit, The New York Times, Cox Communications, and many more large and small companies around the world. Susan also speaks about marketing, branding and social media at events around the world and is frequently interviewed by television, online, radio, and print media organizations about these topics. She holds an MBA in Management and Strategy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.

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  1. Alex Dail says

    “They must move away from office time towards flexible working hours and focus on results.”

    Here’s my questions regarding the above statement:
    Can businesses project a return on profits from taking this action?
    What is the evidence that moving towards flexible work hours sufficiently increases the talent pool and the cost of making the changes justifies the investment?

  2. Susan Gunelius says

    That’s a good question, Alex. There have been many studies that have found positive effects on businesses that offer flex time. For example, research has found that employees typically work more hours, take less sick time, and are more productive when they have flexible schedules. Of course, there are some jobs that require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, but there are also many that could be done at different times of the day and from anywhere. Here are a couple of links that offer some helpful information:

    And here are a couple of PDFs of useful research reports:

    World at Work Survey of Workplace Flexibility

    Georgetown University Workplace Flexibility Fact Sheet

    And of course, for every positive report related to workplace flexibility, I’m sure you could find a report claiming that workplace flexibility is a mistake. It’s a debate that won’t go away in the near future.