Achieving Gender Parity on Boards: Corporate leaders who have paved the way share their insights and strategies.

Author:Ellig, Janice

Corporate leaders spearheading gender parity in the boardroom can provide a window into how to achieve what many see as unachievable.

These companies are in a unique group of nearly 325 with 30% or more women on their boards, exceeding the national average of 23.4% board seats. This group also includes 91 companies with 40% or more women on their boards, as compiled by BoardEx.

We asked 35 CEOs who are leading the way on gender parity to share their stories --what motivated change, the journey, the rewards and the way forward. What we learned is that they have specific motivations, business motivators and personal convictions that drive them.

Here is an overview of what they told us:

Better Decision Making: Very few of the CEO game changers started with a "gender agenda" based on "helping" women. Instead, their motivation was a deep conviction that more diverse boards really do make better decisions and deliver better results, and that gender diversity is an important component. They saw the research and they saw it in action.

"I observed that data over a period of time reflected higher return on sales, return on equity, problem-solving, just a whole host of things," says Rod Martin, CEO of Voya."We had a fresh piece of paper. We were starting a brand new public company, I've often referred to it as a 6,000-person start-up company. The biggest statement one can make initially is with your board. What better time to do that then immediately?"

Reflect the Customer: The focus on gender intensified for those companies for whom women were the primary customer and a strong CEO belief that boards should reflect those customers. In fact, even companies in non-female sectors recognized the female influence factor as women impact over 85% of all purchasing decisions.

"Dressbarn's attitude was always about doing the right thing for the customer but the 2015 acquisition of Ann Inc. was a transforming moment for our board," says David Jaffee, CEO of Ascena, who wanted the company's board to reflect its customer base when the company acquired Ann Inc. "At that point we had only one woman on the board. The acquisition allowed us to rethink what kind of board we needed to achieve and that was to have at least equal representation of women at the board level because they directly represent our customer."

Message to Employees: CEOs driving change felt that gender balance in the boardroom was a critical motivator for employees and a signal of upward mobility...

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