The notion of women quotas for corporate boardrooms still provokes strong reactions among business leaders, voicing fear of sacrificing competence for the sake of quotas.
However, the issue today is not the lack of competent women in business and society, but, rather, granting them access to leadership roles.
While some countries have adopted target quotas and embraced the debate, in October 2015 women still accounted for just 22.7% of board members of the largest listed companies registered in the European Union, despite the strong commitment from the European Commission to promote diversity. In the United States, as of 2014, women’s share of board seats at the US Stock Index Companies is at 19.2%.
I am currently experiencing firsthand the benefits of a gender balanced board in the non-profit sector. I am exercising a three-year mandate as Director on the International Executive Board (IEB) of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. The IEB is the highest governance body responsible for the association’s financial stability, strategy and membership satisfaction. The IEB develops the strategic plan and direction for the association under the guidance of the Association Bylaws approved by the IABC membership. The IEB also serves as the Board of Trustees for the IABC Foundation. It is a volunteer based, non-remunerated role, for which there is a structured and challenging recruitment process.
It happens to be a gender balanced board with 8 women directors and 5 men, from 7 countries. It is a competence-based board, also representative of the association membership geographical distribution (IABC has over 10,000 members across 100 chapters in over 80 countries).
Evidence from the corporate world indicates that diversity and gender balance at the board level leads to stronger business outcomes, increases performance through improved governance, decision-making and financial returns. My work with IABC confirm this.
Furthermore, gender diversity in working groups boosts the group IQ, as per the 2010 study “Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups” co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College, as well as the 2011 Harvard Business Review “The Female Factor” study, both demonstrating that collective intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members, and that the number of women affects (positively) the tendency to cooperate efficiently.
At IABC, the Executive board meets virtually (via an online collaborative platform) on a monthly basis, and twice a year in-person. The agenda, the volume of topics and decisions are fierce: a budget is voted; the work of 22 committees is evaluated and steered, with complex and difficult decisions taken on the necessary investments to support the association’s growth.
This board features an impressive group of diverse professionals who are committed to collectively achieving excellent results. The gender balance influences the tone and direction of discussions, providing, within the governance framework, a diverse outlook which goes beyond the international aspect. Under the vigorous leadership of the International Chair Michael Ambjorn, we are steering in line with a clear three-year strategy. As part of this, short-term and long-term strategies have to be balanced – and difficult decisions made. I believe the board is stronger due to the diversity of experience, background and gender. Difficult, solid and corageous decisions are reached mostly through general consensus, but only after significant and challenging discussion. Discussion strengthened by the diversity.
Finally, among my fellow women board directors, I have met some outstanding role-models, each excelling in their respective fields as entrepreneurs, communicators or business leaders.
It is a privilege to serve IABC in this capacity and, as a woman, to put my competences at disposal of an organization which is committed to the professional development of all its members.
P.S. For ongoing updates from this board you can download the IABC Quarterly Reports and follow the #IABCieb hashtag on Twitter.