Local companies add women to their boards to broaden perspectives

A growing body of research suggests that the lack of gender diversity on corporate boards and in the C-suites of America’s companies results in underperformance.

One such study, titled “Women Create a Sustainable Future,” produced by the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, said clearly in its executive summary that “companies that explicitly place value on gender diversity perform better in general.” It also said that adding women to boards helps balance the tug of war between short-term profit and longer-term sustainability goals.

That report carried a 2012 date. 

Since that time, corporations around the country have moved to diversify their boards. Progress has been slow. As of March this year, women hold just 21.5 percent of directorships, according to Equilar Inc., which tracks this information among the Russell 3000 — the 3000 largest U.S. traded stocks. Equilar is an executive compensation and corporate governance firm.

Source: Equilar

Still, Equilar projected that at the current rate of growth, by 2030 U.S. corporate boards should be balanced among men and women. Sixty Russell companies are there now.

While many if not most companies are adding women to boards on their own, in California publicly traded companies can be fined $100,000 if they fail to add women to their boards. 

In Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley, companies and nonprofit organizations are also adding women to their boards and to the C-Suite. Here are the experiences of three:

 

Namasté Solar

Boulder-based Namasté Solar has two women on its board, in line with trends that women make up a quarter of directors on the S&P 500 and 20 percent of boards globally.

Company co-owners Angela Burke, senior director of technical services, and Molly Williams, residential operations manager, serve on a board of seven, which consists of four internal members, two external members and a swing seat representing the employee cooperative. The board grew from two members when the company was founded to five in 2008 and to seven in 2012.

“Part of that is having different voices on the board,” said Burke, who lives in Littleton and has been with the company since 2013 and a co-owner since 2016. “It’s important to have a wide range of interests, a wide set of interests and perspectives. … It’s important to have as many demographics (represented) as we can.”

The co-owners of the company — there are 100 out of a staff of 210 — nominate and elect the board members for two-year staggered terms to ensure limited turnover each calendar  year. The board meets on a quarterly basis in day-long meetings at the company’s Denver office with out-of-state members calling in to participate.

“Because Namasté Solar has a unique business structure, our board is a little nontraditional,” Burke said.

The company, which was founded in 2005, is a certified B corporation that balances people, profit and the planet and sees its fiduciary responsibility not just to shareholders, but also to other stakeholders, such as internal co-owners, external investors, the local community and the environment. The company also works on creating an inclusive workplace by incorporating companywide opt-in workshops and book clubs that address power dynamics and unconscious bias. 

“Certain biases in the unconscious part of the mind manifest in certain reactions to things,” Burke said.

Company co-owners go through a one-year process working with an assigned mentor to gain more in-depth knowledge about the company and its finances before taking on partial ownership — 40 are currently going through that process to petition to become co-owners, with one share representing one vote.

“The employee ownership and election process feel pretty unique,” Burke said. “As a woman at the board level, I feel very much respected and very much heard. It goes back to the company initiatives; I just feel empowered and supported as a female board member.”

The board is what Burke terms as nose-in and hands-off, engaged in asking questions to gather input.

“Having different perspectives and angles to come at those questions is really helpful. It gives a more comprehensive view of the initiatives the board wants to push for,” Burke said.

After board and co-owner meetings, Burke often will reach out to those in attendance to clarify and deepen her understanding of what was discussed.

“I do a lot of one-on-one reaching out to make sure voices are heard, making sure the co-owners are heard at the board level and that their feedback and input is captured,” Burke said. “There’s an individual component that I tend to add into that board workflow.”

Burke also reaches out to staff to identify issues that can be put on the next board agenda, she said. 

“In the last few years here, I think we’ve had a few really strong female voices at the executive and board levels,” Burke said. “I’ve seen some strong female leadership in the last few years that encourages and empowers other women to pursue other leadership roles.”

 

McKee Wellness Foundation

The board for the McKee Wellness Foundation, a grant-funding organization that focuses on health and wellness initiatives and partners with Banner Health, has an near-equal representation of men and women on its 16-member board — currently, there are seven women and nine men listed on the organization’s website. The Loveland-based board, in existence since 1981, provides fiduciary and governing oversight to operations as representatives of the community or stakeholder group. It is made up of members of the community and meets every other month at the McKee Medical Center or another available boardroom.

“It’s important to have women on the board for their voices to be heard in the community,” said Allis Gilbert, executive director of the McKee Wellness Foundation. “Having all voices represented is an important part of a fair and balanced process. … Women should be represented in all organizations and boards. This one is as important as any other business to have women’s voices heard and understood.”

Members serve three-year terms for no more than three terms. They are recruited on a one-on-one basis and in a personal fashion to represent different businesses, causes and passions, Gilbert said, adding that potential members are considered based on their attendance at foundation events, volunteer and donation efforts, prominence in the community and interest in the foundation’s causes. She and the other board members do the recruiting, she said.

Once they join the board, board members volunteer at the foundation and other community events and have a community presence..

“They are able to make and build relations and talk about what the foundation is doing,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great opportunity to engage with the community at a variety of levels through volunteering, fundraising and grant making.”

 

UCHealth 

UCHealth has a system-wide board, plus seven boards for the 12 hospitals in its system, represented by more than 28 percent women.

“I think that’s even better than the average of Fortune 500 companies,” said Laurie Steele of Windsor, a member of the UCHealth board of directors who has been on various hospital boards since 2002 and is the senior vice president of Burns Marketing. “It’s a little more representative of our staff — our staff is composed of 79 percent women throughout the system, which is due to the nature of nursing,” she said.

UCHealth has a senior executive staff that is 49 percent women, with the director level at 60 percent and the manager level at 73 percent.

“I feel that having women on the board, it also helps encourage more women in leadership, management and director roles,” Steele said, adding that being diverse and inclusive is part of UCHealth’s values. “We want to represent our employees. We want to represent our patients and families.”

The overall UCHealth board has 11 members, two of whom are women, though more women have been on the board in past years. The board meets monthly, and members serve three-year terms and are not term-limited. Part of that is because the board represents a complex industry that takes time to understand, Steele said.

“One thing we try to do with our board is to make sure it’s well-rounded in terms of expertise,” Steele said. “Everyone brings different backgrounds and expertise. … Women might have a different perspective and communication style.”

Women also have access to different people and networks, which is good for recruiting board members and finding employees, consultants and experts, Steele said. When a seat needs to be filled, the board members generate ideas for nominations based on experience, talents, availability and diversity in gender and race, she said.

Steele recalled one female board member who asked the board to slow down in decision making and to stop and think about things, she said.

“Maybe communication styles [of women] are different sometimes, again maybe a more thoughtful approach,” Steele said. 

Men, however, have to be supportive of having that female representation on a board, Steele said. 

“It takes male leaders in an organization to be champions of that to improve these numbers. That’s why we have such a high representation of women throughout the organization,” Steele said. “It tends to be in our DNA at UCHealth. It’s something we do and always have done.”

A growing body of research suggests that the lack of gender diversity on corporate boards and in the C-suites of America’s companies results in underperformance.

One such study, titled “Women Create a Sustainable Future,” produced by the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, said clearly in its executive summary that “companies that explicitly place value on gender diversity perform better in general.” It also said that adding women to boards helps balance the tug of war between short-term profit and longer-term sustainability goals.

That report carried a 2012 date. 

Since that time, corporations around the country have moved to diversify their boards. Progress has been slow. As of March this year, women hold just 21.5 percent of directorships, according to Equilar Inc., which tracks this information among the Russell 3000 — the 3000 largest U.S. traded stocks. Equilar is an executive compensation and corporate governance firm.

Source: Equilar

Still, Equilar projected that at the current rate of growth, by 2030 U.S. corporate boards should be balanced among men and women. Sixty Russell companies are there now.

While many if not most companies are adding women to boards on their own, in California publicly traded companies can be fined $100,000 if they fail to add women to their boards. 

In Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley, companies and nonprofit organizations are also adding women to their boards and to the C-Suite. Here are the experiences of…