Leadership, Peer Pressure and Sponsorship

Leadership, Peer Pressure and Sponsorship, The French-American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago’s Women for Women  Committee hosted a panel discussion, “Women on Corporate Boards: Exploring Different Approaches for Bringing More Women to the Boardroom”, an event co-sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Baker & McKenzie, where the meeting was held.

Laurel Bellows moderated the panel that included Sharon Thomas Parrott, President of DeVry Foundation and SVP of External Relations, DeVry Inc., Deb DeHaas, Vice Chairman and Chief Inclusion Officer, Deloitte LLP, Francoise Colpron, President, Valeo North America and Chris Curtis, President and CEO Schneider Electric North America.

The panel explored the international efforts underway for improving women’s representation in company leadership and corporate boards.

“Diversity is a business imperative,” said Parrott, who utilizes DeVry’s civic engagement funds to support the organization’s business leaders to get involved at a board level in non-profits in the community. She suggested a report card that scored companies on their inclusion of diverse leaders and board members. Colpron’s experience as a business leader in Europe and Latin America has convinced her of the importance of boards reflecting the community in which the company operates but sees quotas a short-term fix.

While DeHaas acknowledged the pace of change in the boardroom as documented by The Chicago Network’s annual survey of women on corporate boards in Chicago as “glacial,” she noted that it will take leadership and peer pressure to bring about the increased participation of women on boards. “I would add sponsorship,” said Curtis, which he differentiated from mentorship, noting that it takes a CEO or other leader’s investment in the success of the sponsored woman as a board member or corporate leader.

Women who are interested in attaining a corporate board seat should be actively engaged, the panel agreed. With the role for recruiting new directors moving from the CEO to the Nomination Committee and less than half of those committees using recruiters, networking has become more important. “It’s nothing short of a campaign,” said Curtis.

“There’s nothing casual about aspiring to a board director appointment. It’s part of your career planning,” said DeHaas. “Be realistic about your qualifications and what you can contribute. Be a student of good governance and let people know you have an interest.”