Previously Published as an EDITOR'S PICK on Forbes.com
In the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal, is it really that important to ensure that half of your company’s new board members are female?
On Monday, CBS announced the appointment of six new board members, three of whom are women. The announcement comes in the wake of the abrupt departure of Leslie Moonves, who resigned as chief executive amid sexual harassment accusations by a number of women. Moonves is yet another casualty in the long list of men taken down by the #metoo movement.
So, is naming three women to the board merely window dressing? Or does it actually mean something? Should we expect change?
The simple answer is yes. We should expect real change.
Why? Because the role of directors is changing. Boards are getting much more involved in organizational details like succession planning and talent conversations — areas that have typically been the purview of senior leadership. With the expansive executive experience of most board members, this is not surprising. They know how important succession planning is in strengthening organizational capability, and they want to be aware of the talent weaknesses that might impede growth. Regardless of the issue, the bottom line is that women do think about things differently than men. Men and women working alongside one another as a board means that better decisions and better conversations will be happening.
As Forbes contributor Davia Temin points out, “Boards are becoming more activist and less tolerant of #metoo behavior, or any kinds of harassment within their organizations. It appears from anecdotal evidence at least that it is the women board directors who are sparking changed attitudes on their boards, and within their companies.”
The fact is, having more women as corporate directors is better for business — and there’s data to back this assertion up:
According to a 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, companies with the highest percentage of female directors have been shown to outperform on return on equity, sales and invested capital. They also have lower stock price volatility and fewer governance controversies like bribery and fraud. Some of the reasons for that might be found in a 2012 Zenger Folkman study of 16,000 leaders, which revealed that women demonstrate greater skill than their male counterparts in taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results.
Now more than ever, your diversity and inclusion practices influence your brand, corporate purpose and performance. With new research showing that diverse teams are more innovative, engaged and creative in their work, we know that inclusive cultures get better results. And more women in positions of leadership and decision-making means that companies will be better for everyone.
Want more proof that we should be hopeful about change at CBS and in other organizations? In their Harvard Business Review article, “Now What?” Joan Williams and Suzanne Lebsock write:
Several changes in the past decade have brought us to this startling moment. Some were technological: The internet enables women to go public with accusations, bypassing the gatekeepers who traditionally buried their stories. Other changes were cultural: A centuries-old stereotype – the Vengeful Lying Slut – was drained of its power by feminists who coined the term “slut shaming” and reverse-shamed those who did it. Just as important, women have made enough inroads into positions of power in the press, corporations, Congress, and Hollywood that they no longer have to play along with the boys’ club.
Even with all of that said, it can feel like real change is moving at a snail’s pace. But consider this, from Gloria Steinem, who challenges us to take the long view:
Patriarchy and racism are behind this. These are really old systems, so it takes quite a while. It is a long process and we’ve come an incredible distance, which we need to celebrate, but really the main problem is our sound bite minds that think it should be happening right away.
The great news is that there are more women in the workplace gaining strength and courage from one another. Issues that women were scared to talk about just ten years ago are being communicated widely. And having more women at the board table is part of this.
Women must stand together. We must learn to courageously speak our truth. We must learn to hold our ground. Women absolutely have a right to be in positions of authority, influence and change. So yes, let’s appoint more women to corporate boards — and clean up bad behavior all along the way.