Journey to Gender Equity in the Boardroom

by Insight Onsite

Following recent legislation, social changes and focused initiatives, women representation in the boardroom is at an all-time high. While this is exciting, true diversity in the boardroom has a long way to go given that 90% of board seats globally are still held by men. Insight Partners believes that gender equity in the workplace begins in the boardroom – driving progress in areas like pay equality and workplace policies. The technology executives at Insight’s portfolio companies, are building the skills to be the next generation of board members. To help them set their sights on the boardroom, and understand what it takes to become a board member, we invited three experts who are facing this challenge to share their thoughts about the journey.  

Coco Brown, Founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance, discussed how the modern boardroom is changing, why this is the time for women leaders, and what to focus on to get to the boardroom. There is a shift in modern business models: the consumer is in the driver’s seat and enterprises no longer tell consumers what to think and what to buy. This has given rise to roles that were historically not elevated to the C-suite level, like Chief Customer Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Human Resources Officer. Furthermore, the most valued attributes in business are no longer assertion, aggression, or pure financial acumen, but today also include collaboration, communication, and customer service. This is creating a more space for, what Coco calls, the “feminine archetype” in business. Modern governance is not just the correction of an imbalance in the boardroom, it is the dawn of a fundamentally different world with different and lasting requirements for businesses to succeed. To participate in this, Insight Partners and Athena Alliance are joining forces to accelerate gender diversity in the boardroom with the opportunity for Insight’s women leaders to participate in Athena Alliance’s Aspiring Director Program

Kim Hammonds, is former group COO of Deutsche Bank AG. She is on the Board of Directors of iconic technology companies like Tenable (an Insight portfolio company), Cloudera, Box, Zoom and until July 2019, Red Hat. Kim talked with Jenna Sigman, SVP at Insight, about how she overcame challenges in advancing her career and made her way to the boardroom. She shared her personal stories about she raised a family and rose to leadership in (historically) male dominated industries like Finance, Aerospace & Defense and Technology. To get her first seat in a boardroom, Kim was deliberate and focused in communicating with her network, clearly articulating the differentiated value that she brings to a board position. She views securing a board seat as an intensive interview process. Before being contacted to interview for the position, the board will have thoroughly researched and vetted you, understanding your career path, your accomplishments and the industry’s perception of your ethics. This implies that a person’s career, their conduct, and achievements are the building blocks of a future board role. It’s also is a two-way street – you’re interviewing the board even as they vet you.  You also need to ensure the board is a good fit for you.

We also had the pleasure of hearing Bonita Coleman Stewart discuss her career with Managing Director, Anika Argawal. Bonita brings more than 20 years of marketing, technology, and industry expertise to Google, where she oversees the company’s Partner Business Solutions for North and South America. Bonita is also on the Board of Directors at two public companies: Pluralsight (an Insight portfolio company) and Deckers Brands. Bonita’s advice left us feeling inspired about the path ahead. She mentioned that oftentimes, we are focused on a linear career path and the expected next step from one level to the next. Bonita has spent her career zigzagging between the corporate world, entrepreneurship, and various roles and industries. Her career has been non-linear. She emphasized how important it is to zigzag and take risks in order to ensure you gain critical new skills. Broader, rather than specialist skills will be required as you take on more senior roles or think about joining a Board of Directors. Zigzagging builds integrative thinking, broad problem solving and pattern recognition.

On the topic of boards, the tone for equal opportunity and inclusion is set at the top of the corporation. Bonita believes that it’s important to gain P&L responsibility (be close to the how your company makes money), and demonstrate an overarching understanding of business if you aspire to a senior executive position, or a board seat. Bonita’s parting admonition was inspiring: Measure success by looking around the room and saying, “is everyone here?” If there are no people who represent other communities, religions, ethnicities, or minorities, we have an obligation to change that.

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