“Men have been networking and promoting their male colleagues for years. It is vital that women do the same and help other women to progress in their careers. Clearly, more women need to be at the table,” says Shirley Weis, President of Weis Associates, LLC and former VP & CAO of the Mayo Clinic. Recently, Weis exemplified this thinking when she received a tip about an open seat on a private family board. Although she was interested in taking on another board position, she passed the information on to a woman she thought better suited to fulfill the requirements – Dee Thibodeau, CEO of Charter Solutions.
“The board was looking for someone with current healthcare and technology experience,” says Weis. “In addition, the board was located in Wisconsin. I passed the opportunity on to Dee because I knew she was looking for a board position, she had deep and wide technology experience, and she lived in Minnesota while I had recently moved to Arizona.”
Unfortunately, assisting other women advance their board careers is not as commonplace as one would hope. Thibodeau says, “Shirley was truly unique in helping me get on a board. This is not seen as often as you would imagine that it is. However, when that happens, it really makes me feel like I must pass this on to other women as well and help them. There are not enough of ‘Shirley’s’ who really believe in helping women, it is unique and it should become much more common.”
So how do we see a shift in the number of women helping other women? Weis says, “There are many qualified women who are ready, willing and able to serve on boards. They just need to be given the opportunity. So much of career development and board service depends on women inviting and helping other women to join them at leadership tables. I think it is also important for women to take on board leadership roles such as chair of the board and chair of the nominating committee in order to continue to impact the composition of the board to better reflect the diversity of the country and the board’s customer base.”
“We all need to work with the nominating committees, as they have the power and the ability to bring women into the mix when there is a new opportunity,” suggests Thibodeau. “Also, try and keep a list of women that are interested in getting on a board with their skill sets, so when someone asks you, you will have a person with a financial background, security background, CEO or COO experience to recommend. Women can pass on opportunities that they are not ready or interested in, like Shirley did to me. She contacted the company and made sure they had all of my information. I try and pass on information to other women as well, but we need to all do it, to change the mix on boards.”
Being a part of women-based organizations that encourage supporting other women is another suggestion from Thibodeau. “We need to be involved with organizations that have the support and opportunities like Women in the Boardroom. There are not enough of places that show you these opportunities! One opportunity leads to another and that is when women will have more board seats.”