Years ago, Norway put into law that publicly-held boards must be comprised of 40% women, and most companies have complied. I was reminded of this last night during the NYU Stern Women in Business panel discussion on Women Moving Forward in Leadership with Sissel Breie, Consul General of Norway, Janet Campagna, CEO of QS Investors, and Karla Packer, Human Resources Specialist. In contrast, as of December 2010, that number is only 15% in the US. Why is this, what can women do, and how does all this apply to those of us who might not want to be on a board?
Why is this?
Last night, the panel brought up some interesting points. First, boards often require a person who has been a CEO which is difficult considering the pool of female CEOs is well under Norway’s 40% figure. Is this because women aren’t qualified or because they are not chosen? Or something else? Given that the US has not moved toward a culture of “women can do both – work and raise a family” (unlike Norway), women often chose to leave the work force. In some cases, women don’t leave the work force but instead start their own companies, not all of which become Fortune 500-sized. In other cases, let’s face it. The boys’ network exists. How about the recent male-only duck hunting trips a banker I know has gone to twice in the past six months for “relationship building.”
What can women do?
- Mentorship: If your organization does not have a mentor program, create your own. Karla, one of the speakers last night, suggested finding a mentor who you can trust and who is “in the know” on the politics and other important scoop to help you with your career. And if you are one of those women executives, find someone to mentor! Even if you aren’t an executive, find someone to mentor!
- Learn to Negotiate: I have two male friends who recently quit their jobs and negotiated a severance package. Note, they were not let go. They quit! How did they get this? They asked! How many times have you been offered a job and said, “Yes!” without really negotiating the package you deserve. Yes, perhaps women are discriminated against in salaries, but let’s do our part and ASK! Take a class. Read books. Practice with a man who knows how to do this stuff.
- Support Each Other: One of the audience members brought up the issue that sometimes we women don’t take care of each other and instead compete. Given that society has trained us some opportunities are hard to get, we instinctively may feel we have a smaller piece of the pie and are all fighting for that piece. Let’s instead try to work together. Janet, another panelist from last night brought up a good point. Being the only woman at the dinner table or in the board room is so hard. Having only one other with you is also hard. However, once that board room and dinner table has three or four of us, it is less awkward. Let’s vote for female Senators, mentor young women, and encourage our friends. By working together, we can play our own small part in the bigger picture.
I don’t want be on a board. How does this apply to me?
It’s all about the bigger picture. If more women are in positions of power, there is a trickle down effect in how women perceive themselves, other women, and even how the genders interact with each other. Additionally, the suggestions I provided above about mentorship, learning to negotiate and supporting each other can apply to daily life. One does not have to be in the corporate world to find these things of value. These are great life skills to develop and possess.
Share this with every woman you know. Let’s work together to make this country and world an even better place.