It’s no secret the nonprofit world is largely run by women.
In looking at the nonprofits served by the Impact Foundation and the FM Area Foundation, approximately 73 percent of area nonprofits are women-run organizations. That’s a lot of women learning valuable, transferable leadership skills on the job.
Unfortunately, those numbers don’t translate to the area’s economic, growth, health and business boards of directors. The eight largest boards involved in the visioning and development of the metro area have a total of 138 board seats. Of those, 21 percent, or 29 total, are occupied by women.
That’s a big disconnect and an oversight of the skills and value women nonprofit leaders could and should be bringing to those boards and the vision of the greater metro area.
Our community needs to be as progressive about involving women on strategic boards as it has become in so many other areas. Women make up 50 percent of the business sector, and they bring a diverse set of ideas that offsets the homogeneous conversations happening now. It’s time to actively make board equality a priority.
In 2012, Linda Johnson Wurtz wrote a paper called “Where Are the Women?” Produced as part of the Ready to Run – North Dakota project through the Women’s Network, this paper looked at board and executive leadership throughout the state and specifically how women fared in appointments and elected office. It is no surprise women were measurably underrepresented from leadership positions, elected or appointed, in the state.
Some progress has been made at the state level. Last week, the governor’s office released testimony regarding the status of women and governor-appointed state board positions. North Dakota has 145 boards that have all or some of their over 1,000 appointments made directly by the governor. Today, the board split is 60-40 men to women. That’s much closer to a representative split than Fargo-Moorhead has.
Our community needs to do better, be more cognizant of this disparity and work to bring better balance to the boards that play a major role in the positive direction our community is taking.
Wurtz writes, “In study after study, women are found to bring more innovation, broader leadership skills and strong character traits to the board room and executive offices.”
There is clear evidence that gender balance has been good for both the public and private sector, and multiple studies show that “more diverse boards … improve the quality of board discussions and decision making and contribute to organizational and financial performance,” says Paul Hodgson in a 2012 Forbes article on the topic.
The FM Area Foundation’s Women’s Fund hosted a Women and Leadership Forum this past winter. The large turnout had excellent conversation, but more needs to be done – and sooner than later.
Area boards with broad influence need to seek out and advocate for including women, even women deemed not traditionally qualified to serve. Boards are excellent places to mentor and be mentored.
But there’s another reason to include women in board service: networking.
“Women who sit on boards have the advantage of being visible in the public and private sector. The decision-makers and influencers get to know them and learn to trust them. A board member can build credibility within the business or public service community and use that to move forward in their career,” says Wurtz.
This not only has value for the women serving, but it begins to shape the way the next wave of leaders, both women and men, see women bringing value to the community. More parity on prominent boards would be a good step toward paving the all-important path for the next generation.
This column is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, May 126, 2014 issue of the paper.