Your Boardroom Is Probably Missing Some Crucial Voices

3 perspectives companies should consider at the top

(L. to r.) Sarah Hofstetter, board member of Campbell Soup Company; Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing Company; Susan Vobejda, CMO of The Trade Desk and board member of Cision.
Sean T. Smith/David Nicholas

Increasing women’s participation at all levels of organizations may be the buzzy topic, but they’re not the only ones missing from the decision-making process inside boardrooms—and that could mean missing out on crucial perspectives that could help companies’ bottom line.

At Adweek’s recent Women Trailblazers conference, three board members from underrepresented groups—women, marketers and younger leaders—shared their insights with Inside the Brand’s Nadine Dietz on how their perspectives have been valuable to their companies.

Despite the focus on gender equality at all levels of organizations, women remain underrepresented in boardrooms across the globe. A Deloitte analysis of nearly 7,000 companies in 60 countries found that women held just 15% of all board seats globally in 2017.

Linda Johnson Rice is an outlier in this. The chairwoman of Johnson Publishing Company has sat on nine boards of directors over the course of her career.

Once you’ve got that seat, Rice emphasized that being an effective board member means learning as much as you can about the company you’re now helping to lead and shape. “When you get on a board, your fiduciary responsibility goes through the roof,” she said. “As a board member, you’re there to help the board, help the CEO, help the company do well.”

But it’s not enough to have women in the room — boards then have to listen to them. Susan Vobejda, CMO of media-buying firm The Trade Desk, said she chose to step into the role of board member at PR solutions company Cision because she felt her voice would be valued.

“It’s so important to feel like they get you, you get them, and they’re excited for your perspective, and there’s really a place and room for you to offer your point of view in the boardroom,” Vobejda said.

Age is another factor companies should consider when choosing board members. Sarah Hofstetter, who now sits on the boards of the Campbell Soup Company, earned her first board role at age 41. Given that the average age of an S&P 500 director is 63, according to leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart, she acknowledged her relative youth as one of the hurdles to her advancement—but it ended up becoming an advantage.

Being a top marketer doesn’t immediately give you an advantage either. Of the thousands of F1000 board seats, only 26 are held by CMOs, according to Spencer Stuart.

“Marketers are woefully underrepresented in the boardroom,” Hofstetter said. “There is a vacancy in the voice of the customer in the boardroom, and if marketers aren’t going to bring that I’m not sure who will.”

Watch the full panel for more insights into how to position yourself for success, what expectations you should have going in, how your role will morph from operator to advisor, and all the other little things no one ever really tells you as you prepare for your first seat.

Recommended videos