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CED panel

Gail Becker, Joanna Barsh and Nels Olson discuss importance of women on corporate boards at CED event

Time to Think

It’s a precious commodity that women – and men – have far too little of these days.

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Consumed with life’s work and the work of life, carving out time to provide food for the mind and soul, like we do our stomachs, is key. On issues of women and business, a myriad of conferences and meeting invitations have the potential to swallow up our fat calendars so I pose the question, how important is it that women spend valuable time and mindshare thinking about well, the status of women?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in two great events featuring panel discussions related to women in business. The first was a launch event for the Committee for Economic Development (CED) to unveil their latest report, “Fulfilling the Promise: How More Women on Corporate Boards Would Make America and American Companies More Competitiveto media, CED members and other stakeholders. The second event focused more on inspiring women in mid-levels of their career to help them reach their goals.

The CED panel was moderated by Beth Brooke, global vice chair, public policy, Ernst & Young, and I was joined on the panel by Joanna Barsh, principal, McKinsey & Company and Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader, Board and CEO, Korn/Ferry International, Inc.

I was invited to speak because of Edelman’s role with CED and also the work we do with GWEN. I was able to share our real-world experience with GWEN and explain why the firm’s leadership so committed to seeing the initiative succeed. As I said on the panel, “it’s not just about what women bring to the table, it’s also about what’s missing when they’re not there.”

“It’s not just a women’s advancement issue — it’s an issue of American competitiveness,” says the CED’s findings, which highlighted several important points:

  • If American companies fail to meet the career requirements of high-performing women, they will fall behind global competitors that do
  • Nominating committees are not doing enough to demand women candidates

The CED’s report also recommends a business approach to expand supply and increase demand by advocating for talented women. “We would take sponsorship programs to another level by challenging senior executives, men in particular, to take responsibility for developing, grooming and advocating for talented women within their companies.”

Coincidentally – or perhaps not — Facebook announced that Sheryl Sandberg had been added to its corporate board on the same day of this event (see stories in Forbes & Bloomberg Business Week). Needless to say, that helped boost media coverage for the issue and, am hopeful, helped boost awareness and the need to address the problem.

Yet issues relating to women in the workforce are not limited to women at the top of their careers. Last month, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion among top executives at MGM’s Women’s Leadership conference in Las Vegas.

I moderated the CEO panel which was comprised of:

  • Gail J. McGovern, CEO of the American Red Cross
  • James Murren, chairman & CEO of MGM Resorts International
  • Maritza Montiel, vice chairman and deputy chief executive officer of Legislative Affairs, Quality & Risk for Deloitte

The audience was mostly mid-level career women so our charge was to provide very prescriptive advice offering tips and insight into the things we wish we would have known when we were at that level of our careers.

I came away from our session with three important takeaways:

  1.  It is vital for women at all levels of their careers to raise their confidence and their voices. One woman complained how she kept getting passed over for promotion. When I asked what she had done to share her career desires or showcase her good work, she admitted to doing neither. Sponsorship is vital, but few can be as strong an advocate as you can be for yourself.
  2. Sometimes, the greatest champions for women are men. James Murren shared the inspiration he receives from his wife and how her intellect and business experience inspires him in how he wants to lead MGM and why initiatives such as this conference are so important.
  3. As a result of that panel, I was able to meet a new friend and kindred spirit in Gail McGovern. We filled the ride to the airport with similar tales of success and struggle.

With life and work keeping me more than busy, finding “time to think” is a constant battle, but one that is well worth the challenge. Helping other women is my way of giving back to so many who have helped me along the way… and still do.

Perhaps one of the country’s most impressive women and children’s activists Marian Wright Edelman, said it best: “If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

Now that’s a notion about which I would recommend we all take some time to think

Gail Becker is chair of Canada, Latin America and U.S. Western Region

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