The George Washington University last week introduced its inaugural class of 15 fellows to the first-of-its-kind “On the Board,” a program that works to train and place top female executives on governing boards at leading companies around the world.
On Feb. 21, the university, in partnership with the International Women’s Forum, introduced the fellows to their new program in a daylong event featuring panel discussions that addressed the fact that female representation on corporate boards has, for the last decade, stalled at 16 percent.
But now is as good a time as any to fix that problem. More than 1,100 members of Fortune 1000 boards are older than 70, approaching retirement and leaving behind an opportunity for a new crop of leaders—one that’s gender-balanced.
“I see this as a great moment of opportunity, an inflection point, a time to act,” said GW Board of Trustees member Linda Rabbitt, M.A. ’72, whose donation made the On the Board program possible.
Ms. Rabbitt, founder and CEO of Rand Construction Corporation, said an overwhelming amount of evidence shows having women on boards and in leadership positions is “just plain good for business,” but women may not have the far-reaching contacts their male counterparts have to put them in those positions.
That, in part, spurred her to be part of the solution, she said, “to alter the landscape, to change the conversation and to finally move the needle.”
“As a trustee, I can proudly say that the university has a goal to be nothing less than the most admired and respected university in the world,” Ms. Rabbitt said. “We don’t simply study global issues; we help address and resolve them.”
School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie echoed Ms. Rabbitt’s comments, emphasizing the importance the university can play in an initiative that will better the world.
“This is a remarkable opportunity to really reflect not only on what it means to serve on a corporate board but what it means to think about the gender gap and gender inequality in corporate leadership,” he said.
Throughout the day, panelists and speakers included experts from Fortune 500 corporate boards, global stock exchanges and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A morning session, with leaders from all over the world joining via webcast, addressed the relationship between gender diversity and company performance. Another session highlighted the social, economic and cultural changes corporations are undergoing. And an afternoon panel of former SEC officials, including Mary Schapiro, J.D. ’80, discussed managing governance problems and building the qualifications to serve on a board.
Fellows, who met from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24 for their first session, will meet two more times this year, from July 19 to 21 and from Nov. 15 to 17. During the sessions, the fellows receive training and development sessions from experts on corporate strategy, crisis management, audit effectiveness, risk assessment, investor and market relations, corporate finance, leadership communication and regulatory compliance.
Watch the launch event here.