While the percentage of women on the boards of Wisconsin companies has increased, women still only comprise 19 percent of those boards. And that’s a concern, according to the authors of a recent study called Power of 3.
Highlighting research from Catalyst, this year’s annual report from the organization Milwaukee Women inc seeks to give companies examples and tools in how they can increase their diversity within all levels of their leadership. The report argues that companies with three or more women directors outperform those with lower representation by women.
"When you look at the average size of a board of directors, the critical mass of three [women] was absolutely a tipping point where we saw significant enhanced financial performance of companies at that level," explains Lindsay Hammerer, chair of Milwaukee Women inc.
According to Cataylst, 12 of the largest 50 public companies in Wisconsin have achieved the power of three at the director level in 2018 — up 33 percent from 2017. There has also been growth in female executives — 30 percent of Wisconsin's top 50 public companies have three or more women executives and 50 percent have two or more.
"When women are part of a team, they tend to increase the dynamic in the boardroom, the level of discussion, the level of development or education in the boardroom, they tend to reduce conflict in general [and] they tend to add more creativity and [have] better problem-solving abilities," says Hammerer.
In addition to better innovation, group and team performance, and leveraging talent, Hammerer says a more diverse board reflects the marketplace a company represents and ultimately the reputation of the company.
"The financial metrics follow, but really it starts with just the general difference between men and women and the value that women bring and how they look at situations and problem solving differently," she notes.
Hammerer says that companies who want to actively improve gender diversity can start by changing their mindset, expanding their search criteria in hiring practices and maintaining an active pipeline to cultivate long-term relationships with prospective female candidates.
"So many things that happen in the business world are based upon networks and relationships ... and our women need to all be more focused on continuing to develop those relationships outside of their comfort zones and ensuring they have those right mentors and sponsors," explains Hammerer.
The positive results in the Power of 3 report probably won't surprise women, so why does it need to be researched and formally published in the first place?
"We see the research as something that is a tool that helps us create awareness and helps us sometimes have those difficult dialogues and difficult conversations," says Hammerer. "It's all about focusing on the individual women in these individual roles and ensuring diversity throughout these companies and diversity in attracting and maintaining these women and promoting these women. Because this is the pipeline, it all starts back at looking at the complete workforce."
While Wisconsin leads the way in over 90 percent representation of three or more women in nonprofit and health care institutions, there is still a lot of ground to be gained in consumer markets, financial services, industrial industries, technology and utilities.
"The challenge, I think, continues to be moving that metric and moving the needle in those cultures and companies that just haven't embraced diversity at the same level," says Hammerer.