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We Need To Stop Asking How Much Value Women Bring To A Company

Interview with Olga V. Mack, founder of WomenServeOnBoards.com

7Jun

Olga V. Mack has been disrupting the status quo and fighting for equality since she can remember. She is the founder of the WomenServeOnBoards.com movement making a fiscal and social case for gender equality on corporate boards. To spearhead her efforts, Olga launched two petitions – to Land O’Lakes and Discovery Communications, both Fortune 500 companies – requesting the addition of, at a minimum, one woman to their board of directors. Olga plans to continue her efforts until every Fortune 500 company has a woman on its board. To stay deeply connected to her mission, Olga dedicates her time an advisory board member for ChannelMeter and TimeJoy. As a startup enthusiast, she currently brings her passion for seeing her clients succeed and grow as General Counsel at ClearSlide. Previously she held positions at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. In addition to a trajectory that won't be slowing down anytime in the near future, she spends her free time chasing her two active daughters who will, undoubtedly, also work tirelessly to change the world for the better.

We sat down with her ahead of her presentation at the Women In Enterprise Summit, taking place in Boston this October 25-26.

Why did you start the Women Serve on Boards movement?

I started this movement because I had a “WTF” moment. Recently I learned that there are 24 Fortune 500 companies have no women on their boards. How disappointing, antiquated and irritating! How fundamentally unfair and repugnant is it that a woman’s gender can make it essentially impossible for her to serve on some boards of directors – no matter how hard-working, deserving, or qualified she is? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

So I started the Women Serve on Boards petition movement (#WomenServeOnBoards), which makes a fiscal and social case for taking initial steps toward gender equality on boards. My first two petitions – directed at Land O’Lakes and Discovery Communications, two companies on the list of 24 – request that each of these companies add at least one woman to its board of directors. I hope that others will join me and start petitioning the other 22 companies on this infamous list, using my petitions as a template or as inspiration to create their own compelling calls to action.

In addition to starting the Women Serve on Boards movement, you have a flourishing legal career. How did you get started in law?

In addition to advocating for women on boards of directors, I am also general counsel of a mid-size, fast-paced technology startup in San Francisco. There are several paths to the startup world. Within legal, it often makes sense to start down a more conventional path. I went the traditional route and developed my skills at a large firm and at established companies. Then I transitioned my experience to startups. That said, I know a number of people who’ve built successful careers in the startup world going down the non-traditional path.

If your goal is to learn as much as possible in a small period of time, I highly recommend working for a startup. The culture precedes itself: you will be doing the work of five different individuals at breakneck speed, and your skills will grow exponentially. In the process, you become a different professional and a different person when you work at that pace, and that can be very empowering.

What do you think is behind the lack of women in senior positions? How do you think companies could do more to address any imbalance?

We should stop asking the question of how much value women bring to a company! After all, numerous studies suggest that women as a group have numerous strengths and that their participation in a company’s leadership maximizes long-term shareholder value. At some point, we should re-frame and ask, 'Why have women been excluded in the first place? And what should we do now to correct this problem soon?' It may mean that we need to recruit women more aggressively or invest in women proactively and grow talent internally. We need to act now, not just talk about the benefits of including women!

There is also the issue of getting professionals to stand up and demand more women in senior positions. I’ve received several emails saying, “I support your movement, but I can’t publicly sign your petitions.” Many men and women fear professional or social backlash for “rocking the boat” by publicly criticizing companies’ lack of women. This collective silence is holding us back and keeping us from progressing into a future of gender equality! Consumers and professionals alike shouldn’t let fear keep them from speaking out. In turn, companies should listen to their customers and employees when they say it’s time for more women in senior positions.

How do you think HR & Strategy departments can encourage women into leadership? 

Inclusion of women must start at the top – the board of directors and leadership. Any company’s board of directors and leadership model shows their managers, employees, investors, customers, and the rest of the world how women should be treated and whether they should be included. Many companies claim to care about gender equality and including women in business. But we should question that claim when it comes from companies with no or very few women in board and leadership positions. Therefore, HR and strategy departments must work closely with boards of directors and leadership to include women at every level of the organization.

What will you be discussing in your presentation?

I will be discussing the importance and advantages of adding women to boards. Adding women to boards makes business sense for every company: it will significantly increase profits, boost its competitive advantage, and put any company on the right side of the issue. Taking steps toward gender equality on boards is also the right move socially. Companies that aim to improve and shape society can’t do so unless they reflect society. Upcoming generations need a future where gender inequality is a thing of the past, not a status quo to accept or even a hurdle to overcome. During the presentation, I will also share with you what I’ve learned on my journey as a leader of the Women Serve on Boards petition movement and suggest specific actions you can take to get us closer to gender equality on the boards of directors.

You can hear more from Olga, along with other leading women in enterprise, at the Women In Enterprise Summit. To register, click here.

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