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Power Trio: Arcilia Acosta, Thear Suzuki, and Tracey Doi

The influential execs are co-chairs of 2020 Women on Boards Dallas, which will host an all-star panel event on Nov. 18.

Ten years ago, 2020 Women on Boards was formed as a national organization, with the mission of pursuing gender parity in corporate boardrooms. The goal was to have women make up 20 percent of board positions at Russell 3000 companies (the country’s largest public companies) by 2020. That goal was achieved a year early, hitting 20.4 percent last year and improving to 22.6 percent this year, on a national basis.

At Texas companies, the stats improved from 17.4 percent in 2019 to 20.1 percent this year. A regional offshoot of the national WOB organization is working very hard to build momentum and continue to make gains.

It’s led by three corporate powerhouses: Arcilia Acosta, president and CEO of CARCON Industries & Construction and STL Engineers; Thear Suzuki, Americas consulting talent leader for EY; and  Tracey Doi, chief financial officer for Toyota Motor North America.

Their work for 2020 will culminate in a big virtual event on Nov. 18, “Women Directors During Times of Crisis.” It’s one of a number of regional programs, following on the heels of a Nov. 12 global WOB discussion.

Locally, the program will feature Steve Demetriou, CEO and chair of Jacobs; Graciela Ivonne Monteagudo, former CEO of LaLa US Inc.; Sandra Phillips Rogers, CLO and chief diversity officer at Toyota; and Susan Salka, CEO of AMN Healthcare. They will talk about their journeys to the boardroom and the impact of women on corporate boards—especially in times of crisis.

“It will provide insights into the top issues that boards are contending with, as well as how women are influencing conversations and changing boardroom dynamics,” Suzuki says. “The different types of things that get addressed, the types of questions that get asked—it’s different from how things were before.”

Suzuki will open the program by talking with national WOB chief executive Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire and share the latest research stats. Breakout sessions will follow the panel.

“It’s such an important event and an exciting project,” says Acosta. “I’m proud to say the Dallas event is currently leading all other cities, with more than 650 registrants and 40 corporate board members (both women and men) serving as coaches. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit directly with a coach and ask questions and learn about their personal journey to serving on a corporate board.”

Coaches include some of the most accomplished and influential executives and board members in the region, from companies like FedEx Office, Texas Instruments, McKesson, and Alcon.

A Pathway to Board Service

The Nov. 18 event is expected to attract existing and aspiring C-Suiters and career professionals who are interested in learning more about the board service journey—and what they should be doing to prepare. It’s not something that happens overnight; it takes a while to cultivate and nurture connections. “We want to make it more accessible and comfortable for people who have the ambition,” Suzuki says. “There is a way to get there, and we can help provide a roadmap.”

Beyond the event, WOB offers virtual workshops throughout the year and ongoing small-group coaching. It helps participants come up with board bios and do an analysis of skills that are transferable to board service, which can sometimes differ from those required of their day jobs.

Holding a CEO role or having P&L responsibility is no longer a requirement; companies are looking for more diverse voices.

One strategy for accelerating movement to a board position is community involvement and nonprofit leadership. “Philanthropy is a great feeder to the corporate boardroom,” Doi says. “Individuals who take nonprofit positions hone the skills for corporate governance. It can also lead to recommendations.”

Pandemic and Social Justice Crisis Heightens Importance

Gender board parity is happening faster at larger organizations. The percentage of women in the nation’s 100 largest companies is 29.9 percent, according to WOB research. About one third of all Russell 3000 companies only have one or have no women board members. Only 5 percent have achieved gender parity.

Since 2012, WOB has observed that companies have been adding board seats to accommodate women, rather than waiting for male directors to step down. This past year, 469 companies on the Russell 3000 added 523 board seats to accommodate women.

Beyond focusing on the statistics, and increasing diversity for diversity’s sake, companies should consider the value women bring to leadership, Doi says.

“Certainly, we’ve learned through this pandemic, as well as the global crisis of social justice, that the voice of women in the boardroom makes such a huge difference,” she says. “Think about how we all had to convert to virtual overnight; who has been impacted the most? Women, especially those with young children. Without women in the boardroom, who’s going to bring up the issue of childcare and the need to provide support for team members so absenteeism doesn’t skyrocket.”

Women of Color in the Boardroom

Women now hold 20 percent of board seats in 10 of the 11 major industry sectors, like healthcare, financial services, and technology; only the energy sector is lagging.

But there are some signs that momentum is slowing. In 2019, 42 percent of open board seats went to women; in the first half of 2020, that dropped to 36 percent.

Along with pushing for more representation of women on corporate boards, WOB also is pushing for more diversity. Nationally, fewer than 5 percent of board positions on the Fortune 500 are held by women of color.

As part of its local efforts, WOB Dallas is partnering with Women Corporate Directors and the National Association of Corporate Directors, as well as Texas Women’s Foundation and its four giving circles—H100 Latina Giving Circle (engages Latina women in philanthropy), HERitage Giving Fund (encourages philanthropy in the Black community), Orchid Giving Circle (supports social change and services for the North Texas Asian community), and The Village Giving Circle (honors, sustains, and expands the legacy of African-American women’s philanthropy).

“We have a passion not only to see women in leadership but also women of color,” Doi says. “If we can build this community to be stronger and help support one another, that is one strategy to see more women in the boardroom. If a recruiter calls you and you’re not the right fit, then you may be able to recommend someone who might be.”

5050 Women on Boards

At the Nov. 12 global event, the founding 2020 Women on Boards organization announced its new mission—and new name: 5050 Women on Boards. Having achieved its goal of having 20 percent women representation by 2020, the new goal is full gender parity.

The organization will announce more details in the coming months. It also is planning a program specifically for women who are at the midpoint in their careers.

“This is joyful work for us,” Suzuki says of the Dallas leadership committee, which has more than 60 active members. “We’re all working hard and doing something really important and impactful. …  It’s all about wanting to expand the pie.”

2020 WOB Dallas’ event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 18. Click here for details and to register.

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