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March 2013

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Related Resources

  • Women on Boards is a global initiative with members from more than 100 business schools and professional organizations. The LinkedIn Global Board Ready Women database is administered by the Financial Times Non-Executive Directors Club.
  • Visit Forté’s Women on Boards to learn about the LinkedIn group—Global Board Ready Women—and the qualifications to join. Schools are encouraged to refer alumnae to grow the representation of women in the boardroom.
  • For more research and information on recruiting women to your programs visit

Women on Corporate Boards: The Role of Business Schools for Fundamental Change

By Elissa Sangster

Image of Elissa Sangster, Forte FoundationMore and more corporations seek to find qualified women to exercise corporate governance on their boards. Along with professional organizations and companies, business schools are now realizing that the top is but the tip of the iceberg. Consequently, the programs, curricula, and activities now being put in place aim to prepare and grow the pipeline of women managers and executives. The questions about filling the pipeline, and offering curricula and programs to prepare women to exercise corporate and corporate governance responsibility at all levels, has taken on new urgency and relevance. 

A 2012 report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance, showed that businesses are more successful with women in the boardroom. Following a 2012 study of 2,400 companies globally, the Institute found that net income growth over the past six years averaged 14 percent in companies with women directors, eclipsing their counterparts without female board members, which posted only 10 percent growth. Catalyst, a research group focused on women’s advancement to senior leadership, found that Fortune 500 companies with more women directors outperformed those with fewer women board members on a broad range of financial indicators.

So why does half the population constitute only 17 percent of the representation on Fortune 500 corporate boards? It’s not for lack of qualified candidates. The Forté Foundation contributed to a list that now includes 8,000 women, with the goal to put them on the radar of leading companies. Coinciding with International Women’s Day on March 8, Forté sent invitations to major executive search firms and the chairs of publicly quoted companies giving them access to a searchable database of women with the qualifications to immediately step forward and serve on corporate boards.

Women are responsible for almost 80 percent of all consumer spending, and there are more than 10 million majority-owned, privately held, women-owned firms in the US, employing more than 13 million people and generating more than $1.9 trillion in sales.

This Global Board Ready Women searchable database is administered by the Financial Times Non-Executive Directors Club and has already become an international initiative with more than 100 business schools and professional organizations from around the world as members.

Forté joined forces with the European Commission, led by European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, as their US partner to truly make this a global initiative to include alumnae from Europe, the US and the rest of the world. Forté unveiled its list of global board-ready women last December at one of its Get on Board events, held as part of an effort by 2020 Women on Boards to increase the percentage of women on US corporate boards to 20 percent or greater by 2020.

Committed to advancing women in business, the Forté Foundation is a consortium of leading multinational corporations, top business schools in the US and abroad, and the Graduate Management Admission Council. Forté’s relationships with US business schools and corporations put it in a unique position to identify women MBA alumni who are board-ready and raise their visibility with leading companies. Forté aims to not only flag top women who are ready to serve on corporate boards, but to build a pipeline for the future.

In Europe, the goal for female board representation is an ambitious 40 percent by 2020 under targets proposed by Reding. She participated remotely in Forté’s Get on Board panel discussion of top business, academic, political, and nonprofit leaders. The panel discussed a report by event host Ernst & Young, Getting on Board: Women Join Boards at Higher Rates Though Progress Comes Slowly, that showed female representation on corporate boards increased just 3 percent from 2006 to 2012.

What can you do to help increase gender parity in the boardroom? Business schools play a crucial role in the pipeline, both in developing future leaders and promoting current leaders by:

  • Identifying alumnae who may be a fit for the list of global board-ready women.
  • Communicating early to female students about how to become board ready.
  • Adding board readiness to the curriculum.
  • Continuing the conversation after graduation in alumni magazines and conferences.

Women comprise about half of the total US workforce, and more than half of all managers are women. Women are responsible for almost 80 percent of all consumer spending, and there are more than 10 million majority-owned, privately held, women-owned firms in the US, employing more than 13 million people and generating more than $1.9 trillion in sales. Isn’t it time those numbers were reflected in the boardroom?

Elissa serves as Executive Director for the Forté Foundation, an organization dedicated to inspiring women business leaders. Previously, Elissa was the Assistant Dean and Director of the MBA Program at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

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