Social norms are invisible - until they're not.
I've been travelling in Europe for business and vacation. It's opened my eyes to what would seem impossible, but is "normal" in other cultures. We lunched at a German farmer's market. Not only are wine and beer served in high quality stemware, food vendors serve lunch on nice china with real silverware. Customers are free go find a place to sit and eat, and there is no question that they will return the items. An American who is working in Berlin explained: "There is a high level of trust here. For example, on the trains, they do not have people checking for tickets. Most people do not cheat."
So, maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise that other countries have already changed their norms, advancing gender diversity on corporate boards. In 2003, Norway mandated 40% of corporate board seats be held by women, followed by France and other European countries. In 2015, Germany mandated that 30% of corporate board seats be held by women.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, California is well-positioned to lead the U.S. in promoting gender equity in the workplace. I am so proud of NAWBO-CA's leadership to increase opportunities for women business owners, and to open doors for more women to serve on boards of directors of large publicly held corporations. Thirty years ago, NAWBO made it possible
for women across the U.S. get a business loan in their own names without a male relative signing on. (In 1986, I bought my husband a car as a surprise for our anniversary - except that I had to have him sign the car loan!) HR 5050 also established the Women's Business Center (WBC) program.
Today, NAWBO-CA's early success so far with SB 826 in Senate hearings is tangible evidence that a new day is dawning. We are seeing support from groups and people that no one would have predicted a year ago. Much remains to be done, and any success will be hard-fought.
One obstacle is limited awareness about how these influential, lucrative board positions are handed from friend to friend behind closed doors - where only board members know who is being considered until a single selected candidate is announced. As an organization of business owners, NAWBO CA supports freedom for businesses owners and leaders of closely-held corporations to do what's best for the business in most cases. But we challenge that assumption that it's the same for large corporations owned by shareholders who lack knowledge of closed-door practices or a meaningful voice to change them. Data show how much more successful companies are with diverse boards - but there are many in power who prefer business as usual.
Have you heard Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire speak at Propel? Do yourself a favor and read her book:
The Board Game - How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors
Here's why NAWBO-CA advocates for adding a seat for a woman on all-male corporate boards:
"The board nomination and selection process all happens confidentially, behind closed doors," explained Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, board member of NAWBO-CA and CEO of Berkhemer Clayton Retained Executive Search. "There is no transparency. Seats only come open when current board members retire or pass the generally accepted age limit of 75. Years can go by before there is an opening, and then friends of existing board members are typically selected. With this bill, corporations that have no women directors currently will be required to add a seat for a woman in 2019. Seats would not be taken away from existing boards members, but a woman would be added."
Here is another voice of wisdom from
Fast Company Magazine
"For years I thought it was a pipeline question," said Julie Daum, who has led efforts to recruit women for corporate boards at Spencer Stuart. "But it's not - I've been watching the pipeline for 25 years. There is real bias, and without the ability to shine a light on it and really measure it, I don't think anything's going to change. Ultimately at the top of an organization there are fewer and fewer spots, and if you can eliminate an entire class of people, it makes it easier."
The good news is we are awakening to the reality of how decisions are made and challenging the assumption that individuals in positions of power automatically put the best interests of stockholders over their own self-interests.
This is not about men versus women.
Don't hear me blaming men. As in so many social systems, the problem is a few in power blocking access and fair consideration for those without power. And just as there are many men working to help right historic wrongs against women, there are also opportunities for women to step up. It was not uncommon for the few women who were let in to old boys' networks to fail to mentor other women or open doors behind them out of fear of losing their place if they rocked the boat. Some women believed that in order to succeed in business, they had to be as competitive as men. But what really excites me and gives me great optimism is the spirit of open cooperation and mutual gain I see growing among women business owners.
The new norm I see is cooperation instead of competition; mentoring - instead of "mine." I learned a new word from a (male) German client - Co-petition.
Our challenge will not end with this one Senate bill, or even a new law. Glass ceilings will remain to be broken. Let's co-compete to get there!