November 9, 2012 12:16 pm

US school takes aim at ‘glass ceiling’

Frustrated by the large numbers of white males on corporate boards in the US, George Washington University School of Business has launched a fellowship programme that aspires to expand women’s participation at this level.

The programme, “OnTheBoard”, is being funded by GWSB trustee Linda Rabbitt, who founded Rand Construction, the largest women-owned construction company in the US. While the total amount of the donation is unknown, it is sufficient to guarantee four years of the programme. It will be run in collaboration with the International Women’s Forum, a network of female business leaders of which Ms Rabbitt is also a member.

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Participants will receive advanced training in board-level leadership knowledge, including corporate finance, corporate strategy, crisis management, risk assessment and regulatory compliance. Mentoring will be a core part of the programme, led by IWF members with positions on corporate boards.

“The response thus far has been overwhelming. We have received 88 applications from amazing women, who are so accomplished we would be honoured to have nearly all of them in our programme,” says Doug Guthrie, dean of GWSB.

A committee, comprising two panellists from GWSB and two from IWF, will choose 15 to 20 candidates to join the programme later this month. Classes will be held in three separate sessions throughout the year, lasting three to four days, with the first session starting in February.

“Our plan is to have the programme run in perpetuity . . . We hope that this will be a successful programme that runs for a long time,” says Prof Guthrie, who although recognising that legislative action is sometimes necessary to improve the number of women on boards, can see difficulties.

“It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which legislative action like [quotas] would be feasible, at least at the federal level,” he says. “So, within this context, we have decided to contribute to solving the problem with the tools available to us.”

Deedee Corradini, president of the IWF, is hopeful that the programme will guarantee a 100 per cent placement rate on boards.

“Placement is a key issue,” she says. “It will break the mould of [existing] programmes.” In particular, Ms Corradini plans to leverage the support of existing IWF members, who are active in more than 51 nations. Many of them will be on board nomination committees, for example, which should prove to be an advantage, she says.

Across the Atlantic, business schools have also been tackling the lack of women executives on boards. Encouraged by Viviane Reding, EU commissioner of justice, business schools have published a list of women they deem to be “board ready”. At the last count, the list had more than 6,000 names, including business school alumni.

“I would be honoured for GWSB to be a part of such a movement if asked,” says Prof Guthrie.

“And I hope that our initiative will be viewed as a favourable pipeline for education and training that this group is seeking to identify. This is an important issue for all economies across the world, and we must all work to contribute to addressing the issue.”

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