Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Do These Firms Have in Common?

What do the following entrepreneurial enterprises have in common?  (Selections from NewsOnWomen.com -- Entrepreneurs, with additional information provided to help you understand the nature of each company.)

Catabasis Pharmaceuticals, (www.catabasispharma.com/) the Cambridge, MA firm, is a private, venture-backed biopharmaceutical company that leverages “the therapeutic potential of omega-3 fatty acids and other clinically validated compounds to create new medicines for the treatment of inflammatory and metabolic diseases.” Dr. Jill Milne, CEO, director and serial entrepreneur, co-founded the firm with Dr. Michael Jirousek and Dr. Steve Shoelson in June 2008. In December 2011, they raised an additional $8 Million in Series A financing bringing the total raised to $47.6 million.

ImmusanT (www.immusant.com/) is an early stage biotechnology company, now based in Cambridge, MA and focused on developing a treatment and a set of diagnostic and monitoring tools to manage patients with celiac disease. Leslie Williams is Founder, Director, CEO and President. In December 2011, the Company raised $20 million in Series A financing from Vatera Healthcare Partners.

Advanced ICU Care, (www.icumedicine.com) based in St. Louis, MO, is the nation's largest independent provider of tele-ICU programs.  The firm was co-founded in 2004 by Dr. Mary Jo Gorman, M.D.; Dr. Isabelle Kopec, M.D.; and David Schopp. Dr. Gorman is the CEO of the Company which raised an undisclosed amount of new funding led by Trident Capital, Inc in November 2011.

WorkForce Software, (www.workforcesoftware.com) the Livonia, MI leading provider of workforce management solutions for organizations with complex labor policies and stringent compliance demands, was co-founded by Kathy Cannon with Kevin Choksi and Michael Knister. In November 2011, WorkForce raised a total of $17 M in Series A and mezzanine capital raise from investors K1 Capital.

Avaxia Biologics, Inc. (www.avaxiabiologics.com) based in Lexington, MA, is a privately-held biotech company developing oral antibody drugs that act locally within the gastrointestinal tract. The company was co-founded in 2005 by Dr, Barbara Fox, the firm’s current CEO, and the late Anne B. Baia, CPA, MST, MBA.  The company began with a SBIR grant, and in November 2011 completed its first close of $2.2 million in Series A angel-led financing, led by Cherrystone Angels of Providence, Rhode Island.

Tangent Medical Technologies, Inc., (www.tangentmedical.com) is an Ann Arbor, MI development stage medical device company formed as a spinout from the University of Michigan’s Medical Innovation Center fellowship program. The firm was created to address health and safety shortcomings of problems with conventional peripheral intravenous (PIV) fluid/medication delivery systems. UM Medical Innovation Center fellows Adrienne Harris, Elyse Kemmerer, Merrell Sami and Steven White co-founded the company in 2009. In November, they completed a $4.5 million Series A equity financing co-led by Arboretum Ventures and Flagship Ventures.

Chromatin, Inc. (www.chromatininc.com) is a Chicago, IL-based company that has developed and marketed breakthrough gene-stacking technologies for improving any crop. The company’s patented mini-chromosome technologies enable the development of new seed products and the delivery of multiple genetic traits into any plant. Founded in 2000, the firm has office and laboratory facilities in Chicago and greenhouse operations in Champaign.

As a supplier of renewable biomass feedstocks for energy producers, Chromatin Inc. announced in October 2011 that it had completed a $10 million first closing of its Series D financing round that included two strategic investors – BP Ventures and Unilever Technology Ventures – as well as three investors who participated in earlier rounds of financing: Quantitative Investment Holdings, the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund, and Illinois Ventures.

Chromatin Inc. was originally housed at the Chicago Technology Park on the Chicago Near West Side and is an example of how basic research moves out of the university lab and into the commercial mainstream. With technology licensed from the University of Chicago, Chromatin was founded in 2000 to design mini-chromosomes that could be implanted in plant cells to deliver specific, commercially desirable traits. The technology also could be used to make new pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

Daphne Preuss, a University of Chicago professor of molecular genetics and biology, founded the firm.

OvaScience (www.ovascience.com) is a Boston, MA-based innovative life science company dedicated to improving the treatment of infertility. The firm’s first product, AUGMENT, aims to increase the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF) by allowing a woman to use her own cellular energy to revitalize her egg. OvaScience's patented technology is exclusively licensed from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Privately-held, OvaScience was co-founded by Michelle Dipp, M.D., Ph.D. (now Chief Executive Officer), Rich Aldrich (now Chairman), Christoph Westphal, M.D., Ph.D. of Longwood Fund, and Professors Jonathan Tilly, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and David Sinclair, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School.

In October 2011, Ovascience obtained $6 million in venture capital Series A funding from Longwood and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Care.com Inc. (www.care.com) is a Waltham, MA-based company that offers a website to match care givers with clients who need care for children, adults and seniors, the elderly, pets and other purposes such as housekeeping and personal services. Again, the emphasis is on security checks and certified reviewers.  Care.com offers limited access for a Basic (free) membership, with broader and safety-oriented access at Premium membership pricing.

The firm was founded by current CEO, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, in 2006 after she faced a difficult time finding care during a family issue. In October 2011, Care.com raised $25 million of venture capital funding from Texas-based financier and insurer USAA as corporate VC. According to USAA, “Earlier this year, USAA and Care.com announced a relationship to jointly develop integrated online solutions for managing unique military lifestyle changes, such as deployments or a military moves, with a focus on facilitating the management of care-related issues.”

This round was the fourth funding for the company, which also brought in $3.5 million in 2007 and $10 million in 2008.

HarQen, (www.harqen.com) is a Madison, WI-based business media company co-founded by CEO and serial entrepreneur, E. Kelly Fitzsimmons with Jeff Fitzsimmons. HarQen assembled a top tier team and launched Voice Advantage in March 2008 and the HarQen platform in 2009. HarQen's award winning Intelligent Voice Service lets business use the phone and a simple web-based dashboard to create and distribute custom, recorded phone interviews.

"[It] enables meetings, interviews and other business conversations to be captured, enriched, organized, navigated, shared and analyzed – improving collaboration and adding a new layer of business intelligence to existing data management systems". HarQuen secured over half of its targeted $4 million Series B funding in October 2011.

Take the Inteview (www.taketheinterview.com) is a Cambridge, MA-based video interviewing platform for employers and job candidates founded in early 2011 by company CEO Danielle Weinblatt, a former private equity associate and investment banking analyst (and current MBA student at Harvard Business School). In November 2011, Take the Interview raised $775,000 in new funding from angel investors.

Kenandy Inc.(www.kenandy.com) is the Redwood City, CA-based Manufacturing Management system built for cloud computing. Integrating Inventory Management, Engineering, Purchasing, Production, and Requirements Planning together with state-of-the-art supply chain collaboration.  Kenandy is built on Force.com, the leading platform for cloud applications. Kenandy was funded by salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff , former Oracle exec Ray Lane via Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati.  Sandra Kurtzig, Founder and CEO of Kenandy, Inc. (previously founder, CEO and chairman of the ASK Group) announced the closing of a $10.5 million Series A round of funding in August 2011.

Angie's List, (www.angieslist.com) is the online referral service created in Columbus, OH with 1,000 members in 1995 by Angie Hicks, now the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. Over a million members use Angie's List to find high quality service companies and health care professionals in over 550 categories. Before reviews are posted, they are checked in order to guard against providers and companies trying to report on themselves or their competitors -- a process that was reviewed and approved during a 2009 audit by BPA Worldwide. Angie’s List is a membership-based revenue model with multi-year discounts.  In November, Angie's List, Inc. announced it was seeking $114 M in an initial public offering of 8,793,408 shares of common stock at the public price of $13.00 per share.

TaskRabbit, (www.taskrabbit.com) is the San Francisco, CA-based company that mediates outsourcing of errands founded by Leah Busque. Its CEO since October 2011 is Ed Grosse. TaskRabbit raised $17.8 million in Series B financing led by LightSpeed Venture Partners in December 2011.  TaskRabbit entered the Los Angeles and Orange County marketplace in June 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Getting Real

Many investors, women as well as men, lost money which they genuinely believed could have produced a return based on the facts known about the business at the time they made their investment. Having lost money in the dot-com bubble, the financial melt-down, the Ponzi environment of the Madoff era, or the housing-flipper marketplace has made investors much more cautious about their choices. So, we should not be surprised if, today, venture or angel capital is in somewhat shorter supply.

Not only do memories of once-burnt-twice-shy circumstances weigh heavily on investors minds, but recent well-intended state and federal legislation significantly damper growth activities. 

Yesterday’s cowboy entrepreneurs could play fast and loose with chimera stock options, promising exorbitant compensation for gullible high-tech employees.  Today’s conscientious entrepreneur knows she faces tougher reporting requirements and must actually expense stock options rather than treat them like vaporware.  The good ol’ boys in the good ol’ days could pretend contract workers were independent even though they were fully-utilized private employees.  Today’s entrepreneur who mis-classifies independent contracts are subject to much tougher criteria and will face far more onerous consequences than his simple tap on the company wrist.

The bar is higher today for women entering entrepreneurship because we expect companies to perform like legal, civil, and responsible entities. Women entrepreneurs must step up to the plate in an era where performance expectations are higher than ever before.

In these tougher circumstances, women-owned or co-owned businesses cannot be in the same simple businesses our mothers crafted to occupy their time in those more plush periods.  Today, we do find that many more interesting women ARE creating successful businesses that meet viable, substantive needs.  A woman created Constant Contact, iRobot, and now a woman is CEO of Businesswire. Not bad!

If women-owned/co-owned businesses are “real,” they must meet seven essential criteria, to my mind.  I would award seven stars to the best businesses, representing the following criteria:

1.         The problem the business addresses is significant.
2.         The proposed solution is valuable enough to sustain a revenue stream over time.
3.         There are enough customers (men as well as women) to maintain the business’ long-term growth.
4.         The business grows by reaching beyond its initial geographic market area.
5.        The business is scalable -- capable of generating ever-higher revenues through the expanded application of resources.
6.         The business has the potential for a value-realizing event.
7.         The business can prevail beyond the passion and dedication of the initial leader and management team.

An example of a seven star enterprise is Leah Busque’s TaskRabbit (www.taskrabbit.com) -- the San Francisco-based company that mediates outsourcing of errands. Its CEO since October 2011 is Ed Grosse. TaskRabbit entered the LA & OC marketplace in June 2011. It is a viable micro-enterprise engine that offers entrepreneurs in multiple markets an opportunity to offer their services or to contract for services. TaskRabbit has a revenue model that grows with expansion. A must-read entry in their blog explains why TaskRabbit is a perfect example of the law of comparative advantage in action. Most importantly, the company has focused first and foremost on the security of TaskRabbit errand personnel -- an essential in today’s more anxious marketplace. TaskRabbit raised $17.8 million in Series B financing led by LightSpeed Venture Partners in December 2011. Earlier, TaskRabbit received received $1M in seed funding in August 2009 and $5M in Series A funding in May 2011.

All of which proves that seed, angel, and venture funds are available for the right women-owned businesses in today’s marketplace.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Managing the Nonprofit Organization


Several years ago, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of listening to Peter Drucker speak for a series of about six evenings on the topic of his research, his insights, and his wisdom. I have never seen anyone speak for so long without referring to any notes. I remember his comments on how the nonprofit organization was going to be a more important part of our economy. Now that this has come to pass, it's important to understand what Peter Drucker expected from the nonprofit. His book, Managing the Nonprofit Organization, provides a very high level of performance -- a level that has been attained by very few. His book actually provides insight for leaders of traditional companies as well as nonprofits. Noteworthy to me, as an author, is the additional fact that his book includes inspirational and informative interviews with some of the best minds available.

Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices, by Peter Drucker
(Harper Paperbacks: May 9, 2006)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

PART ONE: THE MISSION COMES FIRST: AND YOUR ROLE AS A LEADER.
1. The Commitment.
2. Leadership Is a Foul-Weather Job.
3. Setting New Goals - Interview with Frances Hesselbein.
4. What the Leader Owes - Inteview with Max De Pree.
5. Summary: The Action Implications.

PART TWO: FROM MISSION TO PERFORMANCE: EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES FOR MARKETING, INNOVATION, AND FUND DEVELOPMENT.
1. Converting Good Intentions into Results.
2. Winning Strategies.
3. Defining the Market - Interview with Philip Kolter.
4. Building the Donor Constituency - Interview with Dudley Hafner.
5. Summary: The Action Implications.

PART THREE: MANAGING FOR PERFORMANCE: HOW TO DEFINE IT; HOW TO MEASURE IT.
1. What is the Bottom Line When There is No "Bottom Line"?
2. Don't's and Do's -The Basic Rules.
3. The Effective Decision.
4. How to Make the Schools Accountable - Interview with Albert Shanker.
5. Summary: The Action Implications.

PART FOUR: PEOPLE AND RELATIONSHIPS: YOUR STAFF, YOUR BOARD, YOUR VOLUNTEERS, YOUR COMMUNITY.
1. People Decisions.
2. The Key Relationships.
3. From Volunteers to Unpaid Staff - Interview with Father Leo Bartel.
4. The Effective Board - Interview with Dr. David Hubbard.
5. Summary: The Action Implications.

PART FIVE: DEVELOPING YOURSELF: AS A PERSON, AS AN EXECUTIVE, AS A LEADER.
1. You Are Responsible.
2. What Do You Want to Be Remembered For?
3. Non-Profits: The Second Career - Interview with Robert Buford.
4. The Woman Executive in the Non-Profit Institution - Interview with Roxanne Spitzer-Lehmann.
5. Summary: The Action Implications.

Start at the End

Creative thinkers and innovators have this unique ability to think about a problem by envisioning a solution, then working their way backwards to the beginning in order to focus on what is required to get to that end result.  By starting at the end, creative people visualize the way things would be if they were the way we wanted them to be.  

On a huge scale, like the recent Pacific Coast Highway “carmageddon” (the reconstruction of the 405 Freeway overpass at Mulholland bridge) might have begun with the solution: “We’ve got to destroy the whole bridge in order to replace it.” Then, working backwards,

“We could do it in two steps, one lane at a time.”
“We’d have to drop a lot of concrete on the freeway below.”
“We could layer the freeway with 4 feet of dirt to protect it.”
“We’d have to stop all traffic for a couple of days.”

Thinking that starts at the end could relate to simpler problems as well.
           
“As I get older, it’s tougher to open jars or peel potatoes.” This kind of thinking led to the development of Get A Grip products to help elderly, arthritic hands deal with common problems.
           
“Being a good Dad is challenging enough without trying to find a place to change a diaper in the men’s room:” This thinking led to the invention of the now-ubiquitious drop-down diaper change stations in every bathroom in the country.

Thinking that starts at the end is a form of mental mapping -- where do you want to be, where are you now? What is the most direct or satisfactory route between the two?

By contrast, there is Dead End Thinking, best exemplified by the whine which focuses only on where you are today and all of its undesirable traits.

            “I hate my job, my salary, my boss, my commute, my hours, the competitiveness.”

Dead end thinking keeps you where you are by fostering a focus on the problem(s) and ignoring the possibility of solutions or alternatives.

There also is Sideroad Thinking which is also know as The Grass is Greener Logic.  Sideroad thinking is best exemplified by people sitting at a restaurant and rubbernecking to diners at nearby tables -- “What are THEY having?” “Oh, isn’t THAT interesting?” “I’ll just have whatever SHE’S having.”  Sideroad thinking is lemming behavior, not problem-solving thinking.

Sideroad thinking is missing both assessment and ego.  Assessment would ask: does the end solve the challenge? Do I understand the challenge? Ego requires the result be personally and intellectually satisfying.  Doing something just because everyone else is doing it is following others, not acting on your own behalf.

Starting at the end thinking does not have to be rocket science.  It could be as simple as “How can I spoon just enough batter into a cupcake holder in one scoop with minimal or no spillage?”  Or it could be as complex as “How can we increase the number and quality of child care facilities in any given city, pay teachers well, and give them reasonable benefits at reasonable cost?” Or "How can we reduce the huge and soaring burden our federal deficit is having on our national debt and on future generations?"

If we’re going to make a dent in our familiar problems, we’re going to have to exercise our minds to think more along the lines of starting at the end and working our way back to where we are today. 

Onward!

Onward! is the second book by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz (with Joanne Gordon) - this one is about how (like Apple's Steve jobs) he took back the helm of the firm just as it was headed over the falls.

Schultz tells his story in five parts titled Love, Confidence, Pain, Hope, and Courage. Love is about his passion for all things coffee. Schultz is a man with strong emotions, especially about coffee. When people talk about entrepreneurs requiring passion to survive, they can look to Schultz for a living definition of exactly what that means. Confidence is about the bold and fearless choices nd decisions he had to make to turn his company around. Pain describes the losses and disappointments required along the way. Hope and Courage describe the steps back from the brink and how much of that recovery required simple leaps of faith.

Schultz wrote something of a business plan to guide his company's revival - only he called it a Transformation Agenda -- describing the process by which he wanted to transform the company from where it was (disaster) into where he wanted it to be (at peak performance). At the highest level, it had seven core requirements that guided everything he and his company would do.

First, be the undisputed coffee authority. Know your business, in all of its facets, better than anyone else anywhere. From coffee seeds in the ground to the aroma in each store, Schultz and all his people excelled at their trade.

Second, engage and inspire our partners. Interesting that he described "employees" or "franchisees" as partners. Schultz recognized that Starbucks would fail without the unswerving support of all the people from the ground up.

Third, ignite the emotional attachment with our customers. Finally, comes the buyers, the clients, the marketplace. But, customers are not seen simply as dollar bills - they consume with an "ignited emotional attachment." their very hearts, souls, taste buds
and olfactory systems are consumed in their consumption. Keeping all those sensory triggers firing was crucial to daily sales.

Fourth, expand our global presence. This agenda item comes from the guy who started out with one tiny shop at Pike Place in Seattle. Growth is essential.

Fifth, be a leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact. Schultz innovated in supply chain management and innovation. Since all coffee beans come from under-developed sources, this provided opportunities to create new economies that would be substantively better than his predecessors. This part of the equation tapped the partners' and customers' social consciousness as well.

Sixth, create innovative growth platforms worthy of our coffee. Don't just grow mindlessly. Don't simply diversify without integrating products or services intelligently into the pre-existing offerings. Expand rationally.

Seventh and finally, deliver a sustainable economic model. Make all this work sufficiently well to generate returns adequate to re-invest in whatever needs to be enhanced. Appropriate, not excessive or irrational, returns.  Make it possible to continue the good work.

This is a book that should be read by every new entrepreneur to gauge whether you have the intestinal fortitude to lead your company with this level of commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm. That is the true test of a Transformational Agenda.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Susan Leahy on Robert’s Rules of Order

Are you tired of hearing everyone complain about “unproductive meetings”? Susan Leahy is one of the few women I’ve seen who truly understands the problem -- which is that most people today haven’t a clue how to run a meeting effectively.  Ms. Leahy offers unusual insight, advice, and products/services focused on the issue of using Robert’s Rules of Order as an organizing tool to build more effective teams.  See her web site at: http://www.susanleahy.com/

A very interesting part of her presentation is recognizing the difference between “a group” vs. “a team” -- the former is people who just come together “like Topsy,” while the latter comes together with purpose, goals, ownership, and responsibilities. These are tough lessons women entrepreneurs absolutely must learn.

A second strength from Susan Leahy is the power of effective and confident public speaking. Most people dread public speaking more than they fear death.  Clearly, anyone with some competence in the area of standing up, organizing your thoughts, and delivering them persuasively has a significant and powerful edge over the hoards of people who sit, cowering in the corner.

But, my hat’s off to Ms. Leahy for her focus on Parliamentary Procedures: the seven fundamental motions and how to use them to keep meetings moving along toward results. Most people are petrified about making a motion because they have never been taught the where’s and why’s of Parliamentary Procedures.

Few people realize that the backbone of Parliamentary Procedures, Robert’s Rules of Order, has been around since 1876, originally under the title, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order of Deliberative Assemblies. General Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. When he was asked to preside over a public meeting in his community church, he realized that he did not know how to do that. As he traveled around the U.S., he discovered “virtual parliamentary anarchy” and decided to write his “Pocket Manual” in an effort to bring order out of chaos. Currently in its 11th edition, the classic is now supported by the Robert's Rules Association, made up of descendants of Gen. Henry Robert.

Susan Leahy is helping us find our way out of “virtual parliamentary anarchy” and “meeting anarchy” by once again teaching us how to simplify our deliberations and decision-making in our public and private assemblies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boardroom Q&A

The latest must-read book from America’s other governance curmudgeon, Ralph Ward, is titled, Boardroom Q&A - Ralph Ward Answers Your Toughest Boardroom Questions (published by Boardroom INSIDER; Kindle edition only (August 7, 2011)). 

Ralph Ward is writer, editor, publisher and everything else for Boardroom INSIDER, the electronic governance newsletter he’s produced since 1997.  See his web site for a complete description of Mr. Ward, his books, his newsletter and all things INSIDER: www.boardroominsider.com


Curmudgeon? Mr. Ward admits to as much, himself, here:

“I’ve taken a deliberately contrarian approach to the topic of corporate governance.”

Mr. Ward’s latest book is a compendium of eighty-eight Q&As (questions and answers) plus another fifteen answers-only that he’s fielded from readers and advisors through his BI newsletter. Boardroom Q&A is a treasure-trove of information now assembled in a Kindle-only edition.

This excerpt should make aspiring board candidates feel a little less intimidated:

  “The men and women who serve on the world’s corporate boards are already supposed to know all these answers . . . but often they don’t.” 

Another insight suggests that candidates also are not the only ones trying to learn all this best practices stuff by hook or by crook:  

“All [corporate directors] tend to be smart, conscientious and business savvy.  Yet, they’ve had to teach themselves how to wrestle with the unique personal, logistical, tactical and legal issues encountered behind boardroom doors.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s great to see that many of the experts Mr. Ward cites in the answers are leading women in governance consulting or executive search -- re-affirming our oft-argued premise that it doesn’t matter what the percentages are, what does matter is the caliber of the women who do step up to the plate.

The topics addressed by Mr. Ward cover the basics, but also provide room for creative and innovative thinking-- something for which he  is more than well-known:

·                     Board Structure and Procedures
·                     Wrestling with Board Information
·                     Personal Issues
·                     Liabilities
·                     My Personal Board Portfolio
·                     Paysetting for Boards and Execs
·                     Crises
·                     Board Leadership
·                     Board/Management Issues

Especially check out the Q&A, “Tempting Reluctant Board Candidates” under the category, My Personal Board Portfolio, and “Nonprofit Boards Battling Hard Times” under Crises.  Mr. Ward pops old myths, along with the best of them.

It's a pleasure to report that Mr. Ward's book review is our 400th posting since starting the ChampionBoards blog in 2005.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the Executive Search Side of the Question

When we talk about “the women on boards issue,” we know there are many players in the game.  There is the CEO and his/her leadership team.  There’s the Nominating/Governance Committee. There are the women in the prospective candidate pool. And, too, there are the executive search firms.

Every woman I’ve interviewed who made it to the top mentioned one or several executive search professionals who knew about her contributions at her firm(s) and did not hesitate to either propose her as a candidate for promotion or for a board role or mentor her in her career progression. The key seemed to be staying in touch and making sure executive search professionals knew about their leadership contributions all along the way--not just dumping a resume on their desk “in between assignments.”

The SEC now requires every public company to disclose the source of new director nominees, and executive search firms are being cited more often as the referral origin.  We have seen very few statistical reports of how many women or diversity candidates have entered the executive search gates, but we are learning more about how aggressively women are being advanced to director roles.  Directors & Boards magazine recently reported that 48% of new director announcement in the 2nd Q 2011 were women -- an amazing percentage, and one that parallels the increases reported at NewsOnWomen.com.

In their 3rd Quarter 2011 issue, D&B magazine used the headline, “The Power of Three” to introduce the issue of women on boards and discuss how well women fit into the deliberative process of the boardroom.  In 2011, 55% percent of women agreed with the idea of “the power of three,” while barely 16% of men believed it.  Fifty-six percent of those surveyed in the International markets believe it vs. just 32% in the US.  This speaks volumes about the distance that exists between perspectives: outside v. inside the boardroom.

Some men argue that they have found that some women are not willing to be “the first woman on a board” because the women believed the myth that the first woman would be a token -- yet every one of the first women quoted in the article stated she believed she made the cut on her performance, on the merits.  But, myths will be myths, yes? (For those interested in my “real views” on the three-women-myth can find it at the NACD Directorship blog: http://www.directorship.com/no-excuses-no-magic/)

It also will be interesting to see how many women candidates will submit their credentials to the GMI 3D database.  Over the years, we’ve seen other director registries and databases suffer from a lack of women candidates--including the “big one” at NACD. 

Through the past half dozen years I've done research on this, I've met and talked with several prominent search firm leaders across the country.  They say they are in a double bind between the CEO, nominating/governance committee and the candidate pool -- but the most important factor to remember is that executive search firms, like corporations, are in business to make money, not foster causes.  They've reported many "stupid things" that candidates do to take themselves out of competition.  They don't deny the "male, pale, stale" syndrome, and yet they are challenged to be able to insert into boards -- which want collaborative, team members -- unproven strangers who may end up being adversarial, embarrassing, and confrontational as in "Why DON'T you have more women and diversity candidates on board?"

Collegiality is a top consideration in the recruitment of new candidates -- will this person fit into the synergies of this leadership group? Will the board members be proud and honored to collaborate with this candidate?  These are the questions women also must answer. 

Early in my involvement with women on boards, one executive search woman essentially pulled out of the board search business because, telling me, (1) there were too few top tier women in business who were interested in board roles (“too risky” most of them said) and (2) the experience of the women wasn’t a match to the lines of business in the area (aerospace, oil/energy).  I’m not agreeing with her-- I’m just the reporter.

Another women executive search professional said she only “sees” about one woman applicant for every 50 male applicants.  Still another said that, rather than it being a “problem on the demand side” (i.e., companies, CEOs, Nominating Committees), it seems to be “more a problem on the supply side” (i.e., not enough women ready, willing, and able to take on the mantle of board leadership.

As recently as last week, I asked another executive search professional about his experience with advancing women to board roles. He expressed frustration with the progress, shaking his head, saying he just didn’t understand why the needle wasn’t moving off the mark.  Another executive search male established arms of his own company overseas to widen the net in search of women of talent-- but still didn’t see substantial change.

I’ve listened to another executive search professional, who also happens to sit on a major public company board (interesting?), who spoke about “trust” being the paramount consideration in selecting colleagues for the highly-collaborative role of a board director.  Do women “trust” corporate leadership enough to be part of that team? Or do they feel like outsiders? Do board members “trust” that women will be collegial and collaborative? Or do they fear rebellion from within? How does one overcome questions of “trust” like these?

In conclusion, I see executive search firms--as well as Nominating Committees-- more open than ever before to the pursuit of talented women executives for board roles.  I am not yet persuaded that there are “enough” women who really want board roles, as contrasted with women who prefer nonprofits or retirement over and above the challenge of corporate oversight and governance. 

And, many of you already know the argument that IF women wanted boards, women would build boards for their own businesses and demonstrate what “governance best practices” actually might look like.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Women on Track at US Medical Schools

The Association of American Medical Colleges annually publishes data regarding applicants and first year enrollees in US medical schools, by gender.

In 2011, women represented 47.0% (9,037) first year enrollees compared to 53.0% (10,193) for men. (Total first year enrollees were 19,230.)

In 2011, women represented 47.3% (20,780) applicants compared to 52.7% (23,135) men. (Total applicants were 43,919.)  Applicants reached an all time high in 2011.

The percentage shares of women to men in both categories have remained relatively constant over the ten year time span.

Enrollment of women has increased 16.1% since 2001, compared to an overall increase of 18.8% for men over the same period.

Women first year applicants have increased 29.1% since 2001, compared to an overall increase of 33% for men over the same period.


Age of Top Women in Leadership: US and Abroad (2011)

On October 23, 2011, Jeff Green wrote an article for Bloomberg.com stating that the ten nations in Europe that had passed or were contemplating passage of quotas requiring a minimum percentage of women on boards of directors were running so short of female top-tier executive talent that they were knocking on the doors of US firms to find women director candidates. He cited a 2010 study by executive search firm Russell-Reynolds for the European Professional Women’s Network forecasting that 1,300 new female directors would be required in the next three to five years at 334 companies in 17 countries if a 40% requirement were to prevail. (In that same study, few note that Norway actually experienced a drop in women directors in 2010.)

At around the same time, Fortune magazine came out with their October 17, 2011 issue containing “The 50 Most Powerful Women” (51 if you include Susan Lynn who is the center stage interview in this issue) and “The 50 Most Powerful International Women.” 

This year, we decided to compare the ages of the women from each list to see if there might emerge any patterns that could explain why European countries would have a scarcity of women executives, yet American firms could have an apparent surplus of women (or at least enough for Europeans to tap).  Fortune provided only the age data point. It does not as yet consider their educational credentials to be significant enough to mention.  The two charts below summarize the different age profiles of top tier women in each of the two lists.

Women from American companies have an age span of 25 years.  The data shows that most US women in top leaders were born between 1943 and 1953 -- women aged 58 to 68 years. The curve peaks at just above three representing a top annual number, while the inflection point (going from positive to negative) is between 1947 and 1948.

Contrast this data with that of the women from International companies.  First, their age span is much wider, going from 1939 to 1974 -- a span of 39 years.  So, International firms have both older and younger women than does the US.  Second, the data shows a smattering of older women up until 1952, with a higher concentration of women in leadership between 1953 and 1965, so that women aged 46 to 58 dominate the International top tier -- about a dozen years younger than the US list. The annual peak is much lower at two women per year, while the inflection point is about twelve years later, between 1959 and 1960.  International women leaders are fewer and younger in comparison to US women leaders.

The next chart shows the country of origin of the Fortune 50 International women leaders.  China overwhelmingly dominates the list as the primary source of global talent with eight women represented. France is second with seven women on the top International leadership list. Britain and India follow in third place with six women leaders each. Singapore is next with three, followed by Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan with two women in leadership each. After that, twelve nations have just one woman in top leadership each.  It should be noted that twelve (24%) of the Fortune top 50 International women work at US companies based overseas.

An analysis of the average age of each country’s top women in leadership reveals that China’s eight women averaged 52.9 years of age, France’s women averaged 51.7 years, Britain’s averaged 54 years, India’s averaged 52.8 years while Singapore’s is 53.3 years. Japan’s average age of women leaders is the oldest at 61 years (2 women), while the age of Israel’s sole woman leader is the youngest at 37 years.

The overall average age of all women on the US top 51 list was 52 years, while the overall average age of all women on the International top 50 list was 52.4 years. 

Separately, Fortune reported that 18 (36%) of the 50 US women in leadership received MBAs, while 39 (78%) have advanced degrees. Five of the MBAs are from Harvard, two are from Wharton, one each from Stanford, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Cornell, Yale, UCLA, Columbia, MIT, Southern Methodist University, Rutgers, and University of South Africa.  Three women graduated from law schools: Southern Methodist University Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and University of Connecticut Law School.  Three women received advanced degrees in engineering, or computer science: Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University, Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, and Masters in Engineering from UCLA.

Meanwhile, age is an interesting indicator which suggests some significant differences between US and International firms, at least as to their propensity to bring on women of competence representing different age groups.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Directorship Reports on Board Nominations and CFO Promotions

The NACD Directorship magazine reports on new director nominations and includes many quotes from the CEOs or Chairmen concerning the board's reasons for including each director.  See: October 2011.

Interesting is that 32.8% of the new director announcements were women (19 out of 58) , while 33.3% of the new CFO promotions were women (4 out of 12).
This reaffirms the data we've been hearing from Director & Boards magazine.  It's significantly higher than the typical reports from Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 firms because it includes many smaller public and private companies. This is where most new business growth is occurring and that is an area that attracts talented women today.

Noteworthy is the fact that NACD Directorship quotes the CEO/Chairman's reason for including the new director on board -- emphasizing talent and competence more than specifics of diversity. The NACD Directorship could separate out their listings of board nominations from CFO promotions, as Alice Krause does in her blog -- NewsOnWomen.com.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Daughter Dearest’s Guilt Trip

I’ve heard the argument more than once, now.  It goes something like this: “I’ve worked hard, but the most difficult challenge I’ve faced is the statement from my daughter that I didn’t spend enough time with her, that I came home from work tired, and that--now that she has children--she’s going to stay at home and spend time with them.”

I don’t begrudge any woman the opportunity to stay home and spend time with her children, if she can make that choice.  I do take issue with any child, especially a daughter, laying a guilt trip on a working mother without walking a mile in her shoes. Not only does Daughter Dearest have no right to behave in that ungrateful manner, but also my friend, Working Mom, should simply not let DD get away with it.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that because I come from a family where--when I tried to lay a guilt trip on my mother because she didn’t pay me the quarter to help her clean the house while the neighbor did--my father straightened me out by saying, “You eat here, don’t you??” In other words, I came from tougher times.  My mother was a stay-at-home-mom who raised six kids--all of whom had the opportunity to go on to college and/or graduate school.  My mother “worked at home” and kept the financial books for my father’s several apartment buildings and commercial stores. I know what it’s like to think that I knew more than she did--but I learned that that wasn’t necessarily true. 

The working woman I mentioned happens to be the one who still cooks the major holiday meals for their very large extended family--including Daughter Dearest, her husband and children. Working Mom comes to the business daily, often staying late to close, to keep the family business viable--something that made it possible for Daughter Dearest to have that incredible graduate degree and earn that fantastic 21st century income. I’ve seen Working Mom come to work wearing a cast on her hand. I’ve seen her accommodate irate, impatient customers.  I’ve seen her deal with difficult employees--all with grace and dignity. 

Also, I have seen women of her era and culture back in the Middle East, basically bound to the kitchen and expected to behave as if they were the property of her husband--because that is exactly what they were.  My friend, Working Mom, set a better and more modern role model and example for her daughter.  My friend, Working Mom, is a peer to her partner/husband--on the job and in the home.

If Daughter Dearest wants the world my friend inherited and overcame, there are plenty of countries in the Middle East where she could go experience the joys of that 18th Century life. If Daughter Dearest wants to spend time with her kids, she is more than welcome to do so.  But, she has no right to slap her Working Mom in the face with the ungracious comment that Mom didn’t give her enough of what she wanted.  I suspect that the little princess would never feel she was getting sufficient attention, no matter how much time Mom dedicated to her. 

The message she will instill in HER children will reflect her “reverse-guilt:” “See how much time I’m spending with you, dedicated to your care, sacrificing my time for YOU?  Now, don’t your feel grateful to me, your dedicated Mother?”  What kind of example does that present? I can just imagine how her kids will ricochet off of that stifling coddling. 

In interviewing women who happen to be both leaders and working mothers, I’ve seen how many of them have raised children “of whom they are incredibly proud.” Some of them traveled extensively. Others worked long hours, coming home both late and tired.  Rather than beat up on Working Mom, DD can learn from the powerful lessons of women in leadership.

First, they say “Talk!” Keep the dialog going with spouse and children about what your work is, what it means to you, and what it means for the family.

Second, get help. You are not in this alone--there are great early childhood education centers, schools, nannies, and extended family members. And a great spouse is, first and foremost, a great partner in the totality of the family obligations. The challenge is to delegate appropriately to the right support network.

Third, recognize that women are passionate about many things: work, family, community, society, and their own interests and purpose.  A multifaceted mind requires extraordinary self-management skills in order to keep from overwhelming yourself with demands, change and content generated from all those multiple sources.  Recognition of that reality is an essential step forward in the journey toward a satisfactory, personal sense of balance.  Nobody can give you the perfect solution--it is a journey you must travel. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Overcoming the Gender Gap



“OVERCOMING THE GENDER GAP: WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS AS ECONOMIC DRIVERS”
By Lesa Mitchell, Vice President, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (September 2011)

The latest report from the Kauffman Foundation is one of the best they’ve written to date.
Is it a no-nonsense look at the contemporary impact of women entrepreneurs on the US economy, as start-up entrepreneurs, employer firms, and as high growth success stories.  All of these are unrealized potentials. 

Principle author, Lesa Mitchell -- vice president of the Kauffman Foundation -- takes a straight-forward approach to the facts -- what does it mean for the American economy if women don’t build “real” businesses as contrasted with “hobby or lifestyle businesses”? What does it mean for our growth profile as a nation if women don’t hire workers on a par with their male peers?  What are the implications for personal wealth and long-term well-being if women don’t enter all industry sectors of the economy for which they have been prepared intellectually, academically, and professionally?

This report should be on the recommended reading list of women entrepreneur groups, women’s executive groups, women in business advocates, and women angel and venture capital proponents. 

Good job, very well done on a very important issue.

Press release:

Full report (.pdf):  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

National Fine Print Repository

The September 23, 2011 column by David Lazarus in the LA Times caught my attention because I believe it spoke to the question of whether there should be a government agency or private enterprise solution to the problem of confusing legalese in financial documentation as highlighted by the debate surrounding Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau proposed under Dodd-Frank.

The first solution described by Lazarus is a product from David Hirsh, made available through his new company, Transparency Labs. Hirsch is a Malibu, CA entrepreneur who came up with the business idea of the National Fine Print Repository (NFPR) which Lazarus calls “a sort of CliffsNotes for contracts.”  Hirsch’s employees read and summarize contracts and write explanations so clearly that they can be understood by the average person with a ninth-grade reading level education. NFPR currently has approximately 2 ,000 contracts from banks, credit card issuers, cellphone companies and retirement accounts and will soon expand to include contracts with mortgage lenders, insurance providers, travel companies and software makers. The company is expected to go live in early 2012.

Another solution is the joint effort of the AFL-CIO and the National Labor College, called NLC Invested, providing "working families … the financial basics for key moments in their lives, such as the arrival of a new baby or dealing with a foreclosed home."

Both companies are focused on providing plain English, simple and straight-forward explanations for the confusing, small print, legalese gibberish that passes today as legal disclaimers which nobody either reads or understands.

The interesting question is, “Are these tool more valuable to consumers or to corporations who are paying expensive lawyers today to conjure up this gibberish?”  Clearly, the NFPR is a valuable resource to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What if the NFPR became a resource for lawyers, finally teaching them how to write plain, simple and straight-forward English explanations of legal concepts?  Talk about value!

Hearing Her Story

I had the distinct honor of attending the “welcome/inauguration” of Dean Deanell Reese Tacha as of June 1st, 2011, the new Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean and Professor of the Law at Pepperdine University School of Law (Malibu, CA).

Dean Tacha chose not to have the usual inaugural, but instead brought three of her fellow judges from the circuit court system to speak.  “Hearing Her Story: Reflections of Women Judges” was held September 23 at the Henry J. and Gloria Caruso Auditorium before over 100 faculty, students, alumni/ae and guests. Dean Tacha is a former Senior Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.  Her distinguished panel Friday included The Honorable Carolyn Dineen King, Circuit Judge for the 5th Circuit; The Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson, Circuit Judge for the 9th Circuit; and The Honorable Rosemary Barkett, Circuit Judge for the 11th Circuit.

These amazing justices graduated from their law schools in 1962, 1956 and 1970, respectfully. Dean Tacha graduated in 1971.  As Justice King said, all of them are “beneficiaries of the highest aspirations of the American people” which included the Civil Rights legislation, the merit screening panels, and the recommendations of open and independently-minded leaders in law and politics. 

Their reflections included humorous tales of what it was like to be a sole woman law student in a classroom of men. One reminisced about how all the men in class “shuffled their feet noisily on the floor” in an attempt to intimidate the woman when she presented in class.  When the speaker saw one male in the audience blush in recognition, she enjoyed teasing him about his participation in the game. In an earlier interview, Dean Tacha mentioned how the women in law school were always given the rape cases to present in class. All of the women also mentioned how difficult it was to find that first law profession job after graduation.  Yet, all four dismissed the “nuances of being treated differently” and “past overt behaviors, subtle attitudes or exclusions.”  Judge King put it succinctly by saying, “I refuse to see differences.”

The fact that these women pursued careers in the law changed the profession itself.  More than one of them introduced novel legal concepts such as mediation, peaceful dispute resolution of conflict, and the development of centers for poverty and the law.  None of these concepts would have moved into the mainstream of the legal profession but for the insistence and efforts of these and like-minded women.

The women benefited from appointments by Presidents not necessarily of their own political party. President Jimmy Carter nominated two of them, President Clinton named a third, while Dean Tacha was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.  They all benefited from the mid-1970s creation of “merit screening panels” -- special nonpartisan judicial nominating commissions, consisting of lawyers and lay people, to screen applicants, based on competency criteria, for vacancies on the different courts.  When a vacancy occurs, these nominating commissions develop a list of two or three candidates judged by the panel to be the most highly qualified. They submit that list to the state or federal leader who then select from the named candidates a nominee to fill a particular vacancy. In the years these justices were nominated, the commissions were looking particularly for competent women and minority candidates.

Dean Tacha concluded the retrospective with the question of what advice the justices would give to current law students facing today’s difficult job prospects.  Their answers were not the typical “powder puff” responses we usually hear at graduations.

“No matter what you do, do it as well as you possibly can.  That is what will lead you to get recommendations and referrals.”

“Ask yourself, ‘Where can I make a difference.’”

“Learn how to run a large organization -- even if it is a nonprofit.”

“Invest in you community.”

“When I look for clerk candidates, I look to what they’ve written. Show me you know how to write. Law review. Journal articles. Research. A judge doesn’t have time to teach you how to write well.”

These women faced domineering odds in the 1970s and 1980s, yet they endured and prevailed by meeting the toughest challenges from those days. “Show me your stuff,” they were told. “Prove to me you can do this.” Again and again, they stepped over those obstacles and excelled.  For that, we are deeply indebted to them for making the law a somewhat more humanized profession.

The President of Pepperdine University, Andrew K. Benton, closed the event by thanking Dean Tacha for bringing these justices to speak to the community.  He ended by saying how proud he was of his own daughter, now a graduate of the School of Law at Pepperdine University, and how grateful he was for the pathways cut by these outstanding women justices. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shareholder Diversity Proposals in 2011

It is important to take a fact-based approach to the issue of increasing the presence, on corporate boards, of women directors or diversity candidates. Toward that end, I queried Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) --  a leading provider of corporate governance solutions to the global financial community -- and asked them to report on the number of shareholder proposals submitted during the 2011 proxy season relating to board diversity.

Only two shareholders proposals were submitted for a vote during this proxy season: Urban Outfitters (7 directors, all male) and American Financial Group (10 directors, all male). Both proposals were sponsored by Calvert Asset Management Company, Inc.  The Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds joined Calvert in the Urban Outfitter proposal, while the Board of Pensions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined Calvert on the American Financial Group proposal.

Both proposals failed to reach any noticeable support from shareholders:

Urban Outfitters - received only 22.6% support
American Financial Group - received only 26.8% support.

Read the proposals and the board responses in the proxy statements:

Calvert also filed proposals, which were ultimately withdrawn, at:
General Cable Corp. (7 directors, all male)
Jefferies Group, Inc. (8 directors, all male)
WABCO Holdings (8 directors, all male)

United Methodist Church Foundation filed a similar proposal, which was ultimately withdrawn, at National Oilwell Varco, Inc. (8 directors, all male).

Sponsors of shareholder proposals may withdraw them after engaging with target companies and gaining concessions, which may include a commitment to adopt the policy or simply to provide additional disclosure.

I would conclude the following from this evidence.  The Calvert et al. shareholder proposals had zero weight or impact on nominating/governance committees or board consideration of women or diversity director candidates. The supporting statements for the proposals show a heavy reliance on “beliefs” and “academic research” rather than substantive experience within the corporate boardroom.

Both shareholder proposals and board responses argued their positions were supported by  the SEC’s December 2009 ruling, which gave corporations wide discretionary latitude in their considering or not considering “diverse” candidates. Since both sides appeal to the SEC’s ruling, we would conclude that it was a wash.

Reliance on “academic research” arguments by shareholder proponents has had little or no credibility within the business community. That research is specious at best, with results going in all directions, providing little predictive power and merely support for a “belief” system that sustains the studies.

An examination of the proxy counter arguments (Board of Director Responses) provides the strategies that might prove more effective in bringing forward new, appropriate women and diversity director candidates. Boards and nominating committees, and others who would nominate new candidates, today must consider a candidate’s:

·        viewpoint, professional experience, individual characteristics, qualities and skills resulting in the inclusion of naturally varying perspectives among the directors.
·        whether these capabilities and characteristics will enhance and complement the full Board of Directors as a unit, and
·        whether the Board of Directors, as a whole, possesses the appropriate skills and experience to oversee the Company’s business and serve the long-term interests of our shareholders.

Shareholder proposals will not win the day as they might have in the past with race or conflict diamonds as the central issue.  Shareholders who bring forth actual new independent director nominations with the specific credentials and capabilities described above have a far better chance to be considered. 

It’s time to stop looking at the increase in the number of women and diversity directors as a “social movement.”  It’s time to look at the specific credentials and talents which individual candidates could bring into the boardroom, and how well their presence would complement the work of the board as a whole, over the long term.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On Diversity

The word “diversity” has lost all meaning and significance. And the women’s movement is partially to blame.  “Diverse” just means “different in type, kind, form or character.” Today, “diversity” tries to get everything for everybody, but ends up just adding mere fluff to the discussion.

At one point, the effort was simply to get more women on boards, more women into executive positions and more women as CEOs/President.  If women had stayed the course, then all of the research by McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Harvard Business School and of course Catalyst would still be focused on the inclusion of women of talent and competence into leadership roles at American businesses. If women had stayed focused on that one performance metric, today we might be able to say that companies would be economic fools not to follow the wisdom of the research and place more women in top positions.

We cannot focus on that anymore because that once simple initiative -- to achieve the rightful presence of the 51% of the market who are women -- regressed into an amorphous effort “to make room for EVERYBODY!” Today, “diversity” means NOT only women, but ALSO Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas, African-Americans or people of color, Asians, Native American, LGBT and Veterans.  Before you go off on that attack tangent, I affirm here my belief that all of those individuals have an equal right to advancement and leadership.  I don’t take issue with their cause.

I do take issue with the belief, by women, that if we all get into this bed together, somehow that will make us more powerful or effective in accomplishing our collective, communal goals. I take issue with the false belief that “it takes a village.”  It is the amorphousness of the concept of “diversity” that is problematic.  Women consciously, purposefully and intently participate in promoting “diversity” as a meaningless goal, spouting off about it with the same passion as Motherhood, Sainthood, Apple Pie and the Girl Back Home.

Is anyone surprised that boards of directors in general, and their nominating and governance committees in particular, have reverted to a definition of “diversity” that is so washed out that it is now impossible NOT to attain:  “intellectual independence,” “global mindset” and “wisdom and maturity.”  What do any of these mean in terms of actual recruitment of those warm and walking things called competent corporate directors -- especially women?

Entrenched directors stare at the ongoing diversity debate like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.  Most male directors, if they can’t or don’t understand an issue, they’ll try to do something, anything, that makes it look as if they are solving the problem.  That is what directors are doing about “diversity.”

The Calvert Group’s recent study of corporate diversity practices provided further evidence of how boards have thrown money and bodies at the “problem of diversity” hoping to “solve the problem” and put the angry genies back into their box. Calvert examined 10 “diversity indicators” such as corporate investment in EEO policies, internal/external diversity initiatives, family-friendly benefits, etc. among S&P 100 companies.  Their study found that 70 to 85% of these top tier firms have most of these practices in place. Yet, 56% STILL have no women AND/OR minorities in the top 5 highest paid executive positions. Only 67% have 3 or more women AND/OR minority directors. Diversity initiatives have not produced the desired results -- certainly not at the topmost rungs -- and most certainly not for women candidates. Diversity has failed because it is meaningless.

“Examining the Cracks in the Ceiling: a survey of Corporate Diversity Practices of the S&P 100

In 2010, Catalyst reported that one in five companies among the Fortune 500 had 3 or more women on their boards of directors.

Fortune 500
2010
Women/board
Companies
Percentage
0
61
12.1%
1
148
29.6%
2
188
37.6%
3+
104
20.7%

Source: Catalyst Census of Women on Boards 2010

Spencer Stuart’s Board Index reported similar percentages for the S&P 500 -- 18% of the companies had 3 or more women directors and 38% had 2 women directors.

By generalizing the women-on-boards issue into the much more amorphous issue of “diversity,” women-on-board advocates believed they would win support from those other groups. In the end, they merely diluted their own efforts and effects.  They added six new categories of special groups to be included on boards. If this had been a case of adding new shares, or adding competitors to the marketplace, or an expansion of the candidate pool for any executive search, the dilution of the prospective market would have been obvious. Women advocates sought to be “inclusive” in order to appeal to a larger market by piggy-backing on the efforts of thousands of other prospects. It is a strategy that failed to advance the cause of adding more women to corporate boards. It didn’t work because women spread their support over seven subgroups, while the other groups advocated on behalf of themselves, alone.

The end result is that there is more inclusion, albeit at small numbers, across the spectrum of all the special groups; but the focus on women directors has been lost.  Women hid their talent under the proverbial bushel basket -- again!  Women felt more comfortable speaking up on behalf of the larger community -- but lost the leverage they needed to advance themselves, again.

Calvert et al. now argue for “more disclosure” about “diversity” and “inclusiveness” efforts.  I’d argue in favor of far less information about these superficial subgroup differences and far more focus on answer the tough questions shareholders should be asking, one-on-one of directors at annual board meetings:

            How many women candidates for directors did your nominating committee consider this proxy season?
            How many women candidates for directors did your executive search advisors submit for consideration this proxy season?
            How many women did you invite to serve?
            How many women declined to serve?
            Did any investor group or shareholder group submit name(s) of women director candidates for consideration?
            What is your primary reason why you have not increased the number of women directors this year?

It would be much easier to hold boards accountable for the answers to these simple, straight-forward questions.  These are the “top performance metrics” that nominating committees should be addressing. If we let allow boards and their nominating committees to continue to hide behind the chimera of “diversity,” we will never see any progress at all.