Human Resources and Nonprofits

Game on, for women pursuing corporate boards

March 28, 2014
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A Michigan-based professional development and networking organization for women is highlighting the author of “The Board Game” at an upcoming event.

Inforum, a professional women’s alliance with regional offices based in Grand Rapids and Detroit, is featuring author Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire at an April 3 event at Cascade Hills Country Club, 3725 Cascade Road SE, Grand Rapids.

Berkhemer-Credaire is president and co-founder of Berkhemer Clayton Inc., a retained executive search firm based in Los Angeles, and author of “The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors.” At the Inforum event, Berkhemer-Credaire will speak about the issues involved in women gaining access to corporate boards; she will reveal the secret to navigating careers with that goal in mind.

“For decades, business companies have been run by men and, logically, they bring their friends onto their corporate boards to advise them on how to run a company,” said Berkhemer-Credaire. “But now, in order to be well advised, they realize they need to bring on additional expertise and not just CEOs, and that gives them the opportunity to have greater gender diversity on their boards, which brings the perspective of more than half of the consuming market of the American public to boards.”

The event is part of Inforum’s Board Access program, which is designed to retain female executives in Michigan, enhance corporate decision-making, and improve diversity on corporate boards, according to its website.

Through the provision of tools, skills and support, the program develops potential women candidates for private and for-profit public corporate boards. The year-round program offers a variety of services, including workshops, events, networking and a coaching access program.

Terry Barclay, president and chief executive officer at Inforum, said the Board Access program was created several years ago in response to consistently low numbers reported over the years in Inforum’s Michigan Women’s Leadership Index.

“This event is just one program as part of a broader initiative,” said Barclay. “We reached out to Betsy because she has her book and has been speaking nationally with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about this issue.”

Barclay went on to say the author’s focus on creating strategic connections is something the organization emphasizes, as well, and is known to produce tangible results for women. According to Berkhemer-Credaire, corporate boards choose people they already know, making it imperative for women in business to make connections to already existing members.

“I think the true key is that women don’t just naturally plan their careers and make strategic choices along the way. They don’t really know where to start in order to be making the connections that will eventually get them on corporate boards,” said Berkhemer-Credaire.

“Men in business just tend to do this more naturally … and women are just figuring this out — that we need to emulate more of how the men propel one another forward.”

According to Inforum’s “Women’s Leadership in Michigan Top Public Companies: 2003-2013,” only 17.4 percent of board positions are filled by women, while 11.5 percent are directors for Michigan’s top 100 public companies in 2013. The number of directors, executive officers and top-five compensated officers who are women grew only 2.5 percentage points from 2003 to 2013 for the state of Michigan.

“There has been relatively little movement in the numbers in a decade. That’s interesting,” said Barclay. “We have a lot more work to do.”

Berkhemer-Credaire said she is coming to Michigan because it is such an important state and now more than ever is an opportune time for women to seek board positions due to the baby boomer generation looking at retirement. Most public corporations require board members to retire at age 75, meaning male directors who have served for decades will be vacating positions.

“So there is a huge wave of baby boomers who are retiring, where women at least have the opportunity to be considered to be successors to those positions,” said Berkhemer-Credaire. “That is why we are trying to raise the awareness of this important business issue now.”

In August 2012, the Switzerland-based Credit Suisse Research Institute released a gender diversity and corporate performance report that identified the impact of women on boards during a six-year period for roughly 2,400 companies internationally. When it came to stock-market performance, companies with women on corporate boards outperformed their counterparts that lacked female representation.

According to the report, companies with at least one woman on the board had a higher return on equity, better net income growth, and a lower debt-to-equity ratio than those companies that did not.

“The business case is there. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s important for shareholders to have women on boards where they invest,” said Berkhemer-Credaire in reference to the Credit Suisse report.

The Inforum event offers a workshop for executives with 10 or more years of management experience starting at 9:30 a.m., and a luncheon program for women in all stages of their careers from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The interactive hands-on workshop includes evaluating and building a professional network, leveraging visibility and customizing a strategic plan.

Berkhemer-Credaire will be available for book signing at the event.

“The event and book are geared to business women — working women of all ages,” said Berkhemer-Crediare. “It is important to start thinking about this and maneuvering your career well before you plan to retire from your working career.”

The Inforum Board Access series featuring Berkhemer-Credaire also will be held April 4 in Detroit.

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