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Advice from Simmons College on gender diversity on US corporate boards

Posted by Your Town  December 12, 2012 02:55 PM

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This post first appeared on the Simmons College news blog.

Today, Simmons College hosts an expert panel discussion on achieving more gender diversity in U.S. corporate boardrooms, sponsored by 2020 Women on Boards. 2020 Women on Boards aims to raise the percentage of women on U.S. corporate boards to 20 percent or greater by the year 2020.

Among the panelists speaking is Roslyn Watson, president and founder of Watson Venture, a real estate investment company. Watson currently serves on the Boards of Directors of American Express Bank, FSB, an OCC regulated thrift where she serves on the Audit and Risk Committee, The Dreyfus Laurel Mutual Funds, where she chairs the Compensation Committee, and the Dreyfus Institutional Cash Management Funds. She is also a trustee of the Hyams Foundation, a private foundation in Boston and Pathfinder International, an NGO which funds women's health and reproduction programs in 60 countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

Below, Watson shares what she’s learned about the value women bring to the boardroom, what they can do to prepare to be on boards, and the surprising facts you might not know about what’s involved in this role.

What is the value that women bring to the Boards they serve?

All good Board members bring their best business judgment, professional expertise, and energy to their Board work. Boards with both women and men benefit from a wider range of perspectives and problem solving approaches than Boards that are single sex.

What can young women do to prepare to be on Boards?

It's never too soon to start learning the leadership skills that can lead to being asked to join a Board. For starters, young women can learn to say “yes” when they are asked to take on a leadership responsibility. This can be in a student club, student government association, church or other religious organization, scout troop, political organization, or in a non-profit organization you care about. Volunteer organizations are great training grounds to learn about meeting protocol, conflict-resolution and board management role differentiation. The more of this kind of experience a woman has the better because it allows you to answer confidently when you are asked, "Have you ever encountered this situation?"

Having a reasonable level of financial literacy is another requisite for Board responsibility whether in the for-profit or non-profit world. Young women should be sure to include course work in economics, finance, and accounting in their college studies and seek opportunities to apply and test this learning in internships or other work experiences.

Another thing young women can do is actively try to raise their professional profile by becoming active in a professional organization

What might people be surprised to know about being on a Board?

I think most people think Board members are far more directive and make many more decisions than we actually do. In fact, Board members are far more facilitative than most people might think and achieve quite a bit of their effectiveness from influencing, rather than directing the executives who work with them. Another thing people might be surprised to know is how much of the work conducted by Boards actually occurs outside the Board room...some of that in social settings but also quite a bit in pre-meetings, phone calls, and emails.

Watson has an undergraduate degree from Simmons College, and an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.

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