14 January/February 2016
bers can create a more well-rounded board because
men and women often have different skills and behavioral styles. A successful woman board member cannot
be afraid to sit in the middle of the board table, speak
with authority, and challenge company norms.
A powerful force that has held women back is
status. Men have traditionally held the power in the
workplace, and people naturally want to work for the
person with the most power, influence, and clout. In
a 2013 CNN article, sociologist and workplace consultant BJ Gallagher explained that this is due to the
notion that power “trickles down so that if you work
for a powerful boss, you are a little bit more powerful. Your whole department is seen in a more positive
light if the boss is a powerful and influential person.”
Another significant issue that has contributed to the
gender imbalance is the lack of women in middle
and upper management positions, which is where
companies look for purposes of recruiting executive
leaders and board members. If companies only award
board seats to senior executives from their respective
industry, women will be unable to increase their board
representation due to the lack of female candidates in
middle and upper management levels.
Because men have historically held the power in
the corporate world, women seeking seats of authority often have to do more to prove themselves and to
not only overcome this cultural bias, but also to attract
top talent to work for them. The historical status of
men relative to women has left behind a presumption
that men are more powerful than women, and women who want to challenge that presumption have the
heavy burden of proof. That said, businesswomen must
lead by example. Rather than endeavoring to pursue
power, women must work hard, develop their expertise, and, more importantly, believe that they already
have power and are prepared to exercise it. Women
must exude confidence and not doubt or second-guess themselves in their leadership skills.
Once a woman has achieved the knowledge, ex-
perience, and skills, she should feel confident that she
has power. This confidence will naturally draw others
to her side. If women leaders can foster the career
growth of less experienced women and nurture their
talent, there will be even more women in the pipeline
for future leadership positions. Women must seek out
managerial positions early on in their careers and en-
courage their female colleagues and direct reports to
do the same. This is crucial in male dominated indus-
tries, such as the mortgage industry, because, as more
women start to occupy high profile positions, it will
encourage more women to enter the industry.
As women make their way on to boards, it will
have a positive ripple effect. The board often appoints
the company’s top executive positions. Therefore,
female board members may more naturally advocate
for qualified executive female candidates, and thereby
cultivate diversity among the executive leaders and
the governing board. It also becomes more natural
for women in senior roles to act as mentors in guiding
young women as they expand their professional skills
and networks early on in their careers. Additionally,
increasing the number of women in top corporate
positions sends the message to other women that a
move up the corporate ladder is obtainable. A diversified board creates a level playing field for men and
women looking to move up in the company, which is
beneficial for companies because it increases the pool
of candidates for critical positions and allows them to
select the candidate most qualified for the job.
She takes a seat in the middle of the boardroom
and looks across the table, admiring the French manicure of the woman executive sitting across from her.
The timing, the climate, and the research all show
that now is the time for women to take a seat in
the boardroom. The nation is experiencing immense
change that fosters growth for female professionals.
Through hard work, exerting confidence, and strategic moves, women can endeavor to make their voice
heard and change the corporate structure in the U.S.
and around the world.
Debbie Hoffman is the Chief Legal Officer at Digital Risk,
LLC, and the Head of Legal, North America, for Mphasis, an
HP company (the parent company of Digital Risk). Debbie
is responsible for overseeing legal and compliance matters,
and provides legal expertise and review in all aspects of the
corporate legal environment. Debbie manages a team of in-house attorneys as well as directs outside legal counsel.