A Seat at The Table Requires Standing Up When Necessary

A Seat at The Table Requires Standing Up When Necessary

A Seat at The Table Requires Standing Up When Necessary | Susan Stautberg & Elaine Eisenman

As of 2019, women hold one out of every five seats on corporate boards in America’s top companies.  Although this is progress, since 2016, where only 15 percent of women occupied corporate board seats., it is still an unequal balance,

Considerable research supports the fact that Board representation by women is essential since they bring a unique set of skills, life experiences, and perspectives that greatly benefit corporate organizations. A Forbes article recently noted , “Several research studies indicate that women-led companies outperform those led by men. One fascinating analysis found that women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drove three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men! Another study by one of the biggest banks in Europe, Nordea, showed that companies with a woman in the chief executive or chairman role performed far better than a major global index over an eight-year period. Credit Suisse also unveiled a research report showing that companies with more female executives in decision-making positions continue to generate stronger market returns and superior profits. In short, the link between gender diversity and better results is undeniable.”

Case in Point

In our interviews with corporate women who had been betrayed in their corporate positions, we discovered that a woman’s brave voice and unique perspective can prevent the organization from risk. Consider the experience of Gina Spero, the chair of an audit committee for a publicly traded company.  The company had recently hired a CEO, Jeff, who had no shortage of overconfidence and arrogance based on his past history. However, Gina quickly became concerned that his confidence and past behaviors were inappropriate in his new company. She recalled a particularly alarming statement he made, “I believe in pushing the envelope around risk in order to maximize growth,” he announced at one of his early meetings with the board. “Isn’t that what you hired me to do?” Despite the Board’s protestations, his subsequent actions demonstrated a prioritization of media attention for the company and for himself.

As he warned in that early board meeting, Jeff pushed the firm into uncharted waters, making large trades significantly above the historical limits. His calls for these big bets rattled many people, including some members of the Board. At one particular meeting, Gina cautioned the Board about increas­ing the positions Jeff and senior management were proposing, going a step further to vote “no.” Despite the Board’s lack of support, he would go on to place the company at significant risk and potential bankruptcy.

In hindsight, there were obvious red flags early on and others appeared over time. Management knowingly and secretly tried to inflate the company’s earning toward the end, as they became increasingly desperate to show a profit. This was caught by Gina and the audit committee. At the behest of the auditors and the company’s outside SEC counsel, management was forced to correct the earnings release. The company would go on to deal with the legal fall-out, which would drag Gina and the rest of the Board through the mud as well.  Despite the destruction, Gina chose to control the narrative rather than letting the media distort the facts and place blame on the Board. She did so by standing her ground, repeatedly providing the facts, and helping those who despite their correct actions were negatively impacted by the mess made.  Her initial gut reaction was correct, and the Board now realized that they should have heeded her warnings and fired the CEO before the damage was irreversible.

As women, it’s important that we make ourselves heard and take a tough and often contrarian stance with courage and resolve. There is no advantage to having a seat at the table unless we can stand and deliver. We know how difficult it can be; however, we have personally seen how necessary and beneficial it is to stay present, engaged, and committed – despite the challenges.  And above all, to retain our power and control the narrative to ensure that we are not scapegoated for other’s actions. Learn more about our executive leadership backgrounds and how we’ve applied our experience here, https://bouncefrombetrayal.com/about/.

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