Minority women make up just 3.8 percent of boards of Fortune 500 companies, while caucasian women comprise 16.4 percent of the boards of Fortune 500 companies, according to the Missing Pieces Report: The 2016 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards.
While the Alliance for Board Diversity projects that at the current rate, women and minorities could make up to 40 percent of boards by 2026, there is still work to be done.
With that in mind, business women and young professionals attended the “At the Table: Women in the Boardroom” panel discussion in Salt Lake City to hear strategies on how to get a seat at the table.
LeeAnne Linderman of Zions Bancorporation, Nina Vaca of Pinnacle Group and Levi Strauss & Co. board member Patricia Pineda joined a panel discussion moderated by U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation President Javier Palomarez. Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson offered welcoming remarks.
LeeAnne Linderman, Executive Vice President at Zions Bancorporation and member of the ARUP Laboratories board of directors, Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Group, and Patricia Pineda, former officer at Toyota Motors and board member of Levi Strauss & Co., all spoke during the panel, which was sponsored by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Zions Bank.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Vaca, whose drive to serve on many boards — including Comerica, Cinemark, and Kohl’s — came from seeing women board leaders speaking at a panel very much like the one in which she was participating.
The sentiment was echoed throughout the panel. The solution? A mixture of believing in yourself, fearlessness, having women’s backs, and enlisting help.
Linderman, Vaca and Pineda all agreed that the most crucial thing for a woman’s success is to believe in herself.
“In the past, women were not aspiring to believe in themselves the same as young male candidates did,” Pineda said. They might have been unable to see themselves reflected in senior leadership, or they may have been struggling with the choice between career and family. Today, more and more women have the confidence to say yes to both.
In the ever-shifting business world, career-focused women should focus on competencies, not roles, Linderman said. Focus on leadership, communication and collaboration — skills that are needed across the board.
Vaca recommends women strive for leadership in opportunities other than their day jobs. Taking on a passion project, like serving for a non-profit organization or getting involved with civic leadership, will showcase your skills and competencies. “If you’re doing it right your resume is not out there at all, but your name is,” Vaca said.
Help Each Other
To succeed in the workplace, it is critical for women to have one another’s backs, Pineda said.
Supporting one another could mean mentoring a younger professional by giving advice and providing opportunities for advancement. It could also be as small as making sure women aren’t interrupted in meetings and ensuring they are properly credited for their ideas, Linderman said. “Women have the power to progress one another if we stand together and speak up.”
“People tend to select and encourage people who are like themselves,” Pineda said. “In corporate America, historically and today, most leadership positions are held by men.”
Women shouldn’t feel guilty seeking out male mentors and taking opportunities presented by men. After all, men and women co-exist in the workforce. Conversations about empowering women should include men, Vaca said, or else women are just talking to themselves. Making corporate America a more gender-equal place will always be a team effort.
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