Two months ago, I decided to begin a movement to place women on the boards of 24 Fortune 500 companies that have all-male directors. Reactions to my efforts have surprised me, and not always in a good way. I spoke with ALM Media reporter Sue Reisinger about my efforts:
Q: How did you start this movement for gender equality on boards?
A: About two months ago, I started the Women Serve on Boards movement with a website and started petitions to two companies that do not have any women on their boards, Land O’Lakes Inc. and Discovery Communications Inc. The petition movement has slowly transitioned into what I now call a public shaming campaign. I also started a public writing and speaking campaign as well.
Q: Have the two companies responded to you in any way?
A: No, I have received no response from the two companies so far. [Neither company has responded to previous media requests for comment.]
Q: Have you received any reaction from other people or companies?
A: Yes. First, let me say I really underestimated how political this is. Most people agree that women should be on boards. But a number of people also think women are too emotional to be in leadership. Or that there is a shortage of qualified women. Others ask what value can a woman bring to a board. The question is not what value, it is why have they been excluded in the first place, and what are we going to do about it?
Q: Have you seen hostility toward your views?
A: Oh, yes. I’ve received some hate communications. I kind of expect some of that. But my biggest surprise and concern is the fear I’ve seen.
Q: Fear? Can you explain?
A: I’ve encountered an unexpectedly large group of people who support me and want to see change, but who watch from sidelines because of their fear. Some have even offered to donate money to the cause, and I’m not even taking donations!
Some think their employers prohibit speaking out. Others fear retaliation by an employer or prospective employer, or loss of a paycheck. It is so disturbing that I had to write an article about it.
Q: Have you received any reaction from other companies?
A: Yes, I’m excited by some companies, local and national ones, that have reached out to me and asked me to work with them on overcoming the problem. I share studies with them, review their practices and help them draft various policies. I won’t name them out of respect for their privacy.
Q: What is the answer to the problem?
A: Companies have to work harder. In Europe, they have quotas for women on boards. I don’t believe in quotas. But if companies don’t work on this problem urgently, their regulators are going to do something about it. And as a general counsel and a person interested in compliance, I think it would be bad for companies if yet another compliance regulation is implemented. That’s my selfish motive [laughs].