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  • Creating She-roes: Sponsoring Women Leaders Through Board Service

Creating She-roes: Sponsoring Women Leaders Through Board Service

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.

2018 April 12

What does an effective leader look like in your mind? Whether you are male or female, it is likely that you saw a male person in your mind’s eye.

Tina Kiefer, a UK professor, discovered this while conducting a business executives workshop. As the New York Times reported, Kiefer realized that “both men and women almost always draw men” when asked to draw an effective leader. The drawings of men showed them in different shapes, sizes and moods. But they were still undeniably men.

What’s going on here? Unfortunately, Kiefer’s finding confirms what we already know but still struggle to resolve: that “women have a more difficult time getting noticed as a leader than men”. An Academy of Management Journal study discusses this issue here.

Thus, CEOs should focus on initiatives that sponsor more women to occupy senior leadership roles in the company. This will help break the classic stereotype that leaders are mostly men.

But that’s easier said than done. Women can’t even reach those senior leadership roles in the first place. Why? Because they don’t have the opportunity to develop senior leadership skills in their middle management roles.

So what can CEOs do to help women develop senior leadership skills?

One way is to have a nonprofit board matching program for women to develop experiential, on-the job leadership skills.

Just ask CSR and governance expert, Alice Korngold. She recently published “Better World Leadership: The Nonprofit Board Leadership Study”. The Korngold report was sponsored by American Express, HP, Johnson Controls, Dow Chemicals and PIMCO.

Korngold provides compelling data on why nonprofit board service is an effective leadership opportunity. And developing effective leaders is crucial to increasing corporate shareholder value.

Alice Korngold & Josephine Yam

Josephine Yam met with Alice Korngold, author of the “Better World Leadership: The Nonprofit Board Leadership Study”, in downtown Toronto last February.

The report states that 81% of corporate employees who serve on nonprofit boards rose to board leadership roles. These roles include board chair, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer. They developed invaluable senior leadership skills including:

 
Community relations
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Board governance
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Communication
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Networking
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Decision-making
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Strategic planning
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Consensus-building
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Critical thinking
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Problem solving
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.
 
Creativity & innovation
Professional women tend to lack effective mentors. Senior male leaders should provide women with career advice on how to move ahead. They should provide women actionable feedback on how to improve their skills. They should provide women tips on how to navigate corporate politics. When these happen, women are more likely to get promoted.

“By gaining leadership experience on boards in solving community problems, employees can become effective leaders in finding innovative solutions at their companies," Korngold explains. "People develop as leaders through experience, rather than by learning in passive settings.”

As Maya Angelou wisely counsels:

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

Thus, companies should sponsor more female employees to serve on nonprofit boards. Nonprofit board programs will increase their female talent pipelines in companies. And eventually, we will likely see more women occupying senior leadership roles in Corporate Canada.

So the next time we’re asked to draw an effective leader, more of us will hopefully draw images of women. Women in different shapes, sizes and moods. But women as effective leaders and “she-roes” nonetheless.

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