As More Boards Achieve Gender Equity, Women Should Prepare to Lead

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As More Boards Achieve Gender Equity, Women Should Prepare to Lead

In June, GM is poised to join the rarefied ranks of a small but growing group of companies: those in which women hold more than half of the board seats. After two of GM’s male directors retire, six female directors will remain on the board—including Mary Barra, the chair of the board and CEO of the company—alongside five male board members. 

The only other companies in the Fortune 500 that can boast having more women than men around their boardroom table are CBS, Viacom, Omnicom Group, Casey’s General Stores, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Another half-dozen, including Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma, have a 50-50 split. But the rest fall short of gender equity—in fact, within the last year, Fortune identified 12 companies whose boards didn’t include a single woman.

Nevertheless, it’s clear by GM’s example that more organizations are beginning to not only recognize the value of gender diversity on their boards, but to do what it takes to ensure that their board composition reflects an appropriate gender diversity that mirrors the customer base. Knowing that the business world is evolving, slowly but surely, in the right direction toward greater inclusion, women who aspire to board membership would be wise to do their part to become board-ready. 

We talk a lot at SHAMBAUGH about why gender balanced boards are good for business. The stats and facts speak for themselves in proving why having women on boards, as well as men, is important. Inclusive companies have been shown to enjoy triple the cash flow of less inclusive organizations, and McKinsey has shown that the most diverse companies greatly outperform the least diverse ones, to the tune of 35 percent. Diverse companies also have a 70 percent greater chance of capturing new markets. 

A key reason behind the financial success of companies that prioritize gender equity at the leadership level is that having both men and women represented on corporate boards helps to balance out leadership styles and thinking approaches. Research by SHAMBAUGH Leadership has found many women have a natural strength in emotional intelligence (EI), as well as effective listening and collaboration skills, which are important elements of EI. This is why SHAMBAUGH places special emphasis on coaching women in how to first identify these areas as strengths, and then leverage their emotional/social intelligence and listening skills to enhance their collaborative leadership ability. 

Here are some top-line strategies on how women can tap into their EI and listening skills to prepare them for board leadership opportunities:

  • Channel your EI into executive presence. SHAMBAUGH’s research has revealed a dearth of emotional intelligence in the workplace, yet EI and social intelligence are critical to today’s leaders. Women may have a natural advantage in this arena if they tap into their internal radar, using this ability both to become aware of any internal bias, and also to listen to other people’s perspectives. This combination results in an emotionally intelligent approach that can help increase your executive presence and influence others. 
  • Quiet the internal chatter. Emotional intelligence helps leaders take a more inclusive stance, extending their self-awareness to include social awareness. Yet in order to do this effectively, it’s important to first understand your own mental narrative. In coaching thousands of women, I’ve seen how often an unconscious negative narrative can hold women back from leadership excellence, becoming a Sticky Floor that keeps them from maximizing their EI. Ask yourself: “Is anything that I’m thinking about my leadership abilities sabotaging my best self as a leader?”
  • Look for language beneath words. Some of the strongest leaders stand out because of their ability to be finely attuned to nonverbal cues. It’s a critical leadership skill to hear what people say—but when you pair this listening ability with the EI skill of detecting how others feel, your leadership will really stand out. Watch for changes in body language and tone, and use these cues to help you navigate situations with greater emotional intelligence.
  • Notice who you are listening to. Listening is a huge tool for collaboration, inclusion, and innovation—and if you’re a good listener, you have an advantage on an important leadership skill. Research again shows that women may have a natural knack in the listening department, engaging their full brain in the task while men listen with only a single lobe. One of the best ways to leverage your listening skills toward leadership is to focus on who you tend to listen to the most. By becoming aware of your assumptions and challenging them, opening yourself up to unfamiliar viewpoints, you’ll be a more inclusive leader—which in today’s workplace equates to a better leader. 

These pointers are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how SHAMBAUGH helps women strengthen their power base to prepare for board leadership. To learn more about our trainings and customized programs in leadership development for women, contact me at

Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebecca is the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

SHAMBAUGH’s Mission: We’re on a mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive

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