Know a champion for strong governance that advocates for women and diversity in the board room? We do. It’s people like Deborah Rosati that are building the future we want to be a part of.
Deborah Rosati, the Founder and CEO of Women Get on Board, inspires us not only because she has been a fearless leader in her own right, but also because she has dedicated herself to supporting women to step into their own greatness.
If you’re curious about how women can advocate for one another, why diversity on boards is so important, and how social profit organizations can attract strong board members, read on.
DEBORAH’S EARLY EXPERIENCE IN CORPORATE GOVERNANCE
Fresh off a successful start-up in the tech sector, a venture capital fund invited Deborah to join the team as general partner for early-stage technology companies. She took the opportunity and soon, she found herself in the boardrooms of her portfolio’s tech companies.
It was the early 2000s, and Deborah was the only woman around the table. She would continue to be the only woman, or one of two, on the boards she served on for the next fifteen years.
“I had no mentors,” Deborah remembers of those early years on boards. “I showed up and I had to teach myself.” There were great minds in those rooms, but she found a lack of emotional intelligence, which did not foster the inclusive conversations needed to inform strategy.
Deborah used her voice to counter traditional norms and bring a new level of accountability.
Whether in a corporate or nonprofit boardroom, “I had to have the courage to have difficult conversations,” she says. “I showed up and had to have the courage and confidence to take on challenges. I didn’t fit the mold, and I had to be fearless.”
Over the years, women kept asking Deborah, “How did you get on a board?” In 2015, she decided to answer that question by founding a social purpose company: Women Get On Board Inc. The member-based company is on a mission to connect, promote, and empower women to join corporate boards.
WOMEN GET ON BOARD
Today, Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB) is 850 women-strong across Canada. WGOB connects its members with board opportunities and empowers members with events, thought leadership and programs. The WGOB Mentorship Program matches aspiring women board members with accomplished women corporate directors.
As a result, women have access to education, networks and mentorship that Deborah never had when she walked into that first board room.
“My mission every day,” says Deborah, “is to encourage women onto boards – those that might not have had the opportunity, or the courage, or the confidence.” Deborah’s work is not only good for women, but also for the organizations they represent.
WHAT HOLDS WOMEN BACK & HOW WE LIFT EACH OTHER UP
Female representation on boards is still shockingly low. Among the 61 new companies that went public from January-August 2021, WGOB and IR Labs Inc found that, on average, women only represented 19% of the boards. While there are more women on nonprofit boards, men still outnumber women in the board room.
So, what holds women back from taking on leadership positions?
In addition to barriers around gender bias, there’s imposter syndrome. Deborah recently met with a potential Mentee for next cohort of the WGOB Mentorship Program. The woman had an Executive MBA and an accomplished 20-year career, and she still doubted her qualifications.
That’s why, Deborah says, “We all need to lean in and lift each other up. We have a civic duty to elevate the next generation of women leaders by advocating for them through empowerment, education, mentorship, and allyship.”
If mentorship is about experienced board directors coaching and supporting up-and-coming leaders, being a good ally means looking around your world and network for people that would be a great fit for opportunities and bringing their names forward.
“We all deserve to be at the table,” says Deborah. “Have courage. Have confidence. And always be learning.”
WHY WE NEED DIVERSITY IN THE BOARD ROOM
Deborah will be the first to tell you, diversity—in all of its manifestations—on boards is not only good practice, it’s also good governance.
A diverse board makes better decisions, improves financial performance, fosters innovation and creative thinking, and improves overall board performance, Deborah writes.
“Diversity of thought,” Deborah says, “comes from a mix of races, genders and ethnicities and extends to age, culture, personality, skills/expertise, educational background and life experiences.”
So how does an organization take real steps toward getting the right voices on their board? She recommends asking these questions to start:
- Does our board’s composition represent our organization’s mandate, employees, client/customer base and/or organizational partners, collaborators and competitors?
- What skills or perspectives do we need to adequately represent the organization’s mandate and performance?
- What is our diversity mandate, and what steps have we taken to increase board diversity?
Deborah has more questions for organizations to ask themselves in her article here.
WHAT DOES GOOD GOVERNANCE LOOK LIKE?
“For me, the perfect example of a board is the right people, empowered by strong governance processes, governing the right issues,” says Deborah. “It sounds simple, but it’s not.”
When it comes to having the right people in the boardroom, organizations need to consider: What is the organization going through? Where are they headed? What skills and perspectives do you need to catalyze growth or consider a new direction? Focus on where the organization is going, not where you’ve been.
Second, a strong board needs good governance process and structure. “That includes making sure there are mandates the board can reference,” says Deborah, “committee structures, consent agenda, and an organizational calendar.” Busy people with strong governance experience
, will expect to see a board calendar well in advance.
Finally, Deborah says, a good board will be focused on the right issues.
HOW CAN SOCIAL PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS ATTRACT STRONG BOARD MEMBERS?
Deborah points out that serving on a nonprofit board often comes with unspoken expectations that you’ll both give money and recruit financial gifts from your network. What’s more, nonprofits often expect board members to take on administrative tasks, which may not be appropriate or realistic.
While fundraising is a necessity for nonprofits, it does not come naturally to most people. Arm your board members with a narrative that makes it easy to talk about your organization and its impact. When board members have a clear story to tell, their networks may be compelled to learn more, and new doors may naturally open.
Second, make sure to be clear up front about expectations for new board members. If fundraising is an expectation, communicate that. No one likes surprises.
Finally, make sure your board is well run and efficient. “Experienced board members will be asking: What’s my time commitment? What’s the governance structure? What committees will I serve on?” says Deborah. Make sure you can confidently answer those questions and make good on your answers.
If you are looking to attract experienced people, be respectful of their time, ensure they are well prepared, run effective meetings that end on time and that their skills and experience are focused on governance matters.