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4 Steps to the Boardroom

Women in Leadership Panel

Deanna Devey Nov 13, 2017

Nationally, women earn nearly half of all law degrees and 45 percent of advanced degrees in business and management. Yet women hold only 6 percent of chief executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies and just 12 percent of U.S. corporate board seats.

“While women make up more than half the population of our country, they are staggeringly underrepresented in the C suite,” says Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And sadly, the situation is even more dire when you look at the final bastion, the corporate boardroom.”

LeeAnne Linderman, Nina Vaca, Patricia Pineda, Javier Palomare, and Scott Anderson

Palomarez recently visited Utah to host a discussion on corporate board leadership as part of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “At the Table: Women in Business and Leadership” initiative, which aims to provide women with career development resources.

Zions Bank sponsored the session, which featured a panel of women who serve on corporate boards for large companies. Here are their tips for helping women advance in their careers and eventually reach the boardroom.

1. Make a Long-term Plan

Getting a seat on a corporate board takes time, says Nina Vaca, chairman and founder of the Pinnacle Group and member of the board of directors for Comerica, Cinemark and Kohl’s.

Vaca was inspired to develop her own long-term plan for corporate board leadership after attending a conference with a panel of women who sat on corporate boards, including those of PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch.      

" “As soon as they spoke, I said, ‘If they could do it, so could I,’” Vaca says."

For the next six years, she grew her business, created relationships and got involved in her community. She served in positions such as chairman of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, board trustee at Northwestern University and chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to name a few.

I spent a lot of time preparing myself,” Vaca says. “It’s not enough to want something in life; you actually have to prepare yourself to receive it.”

2. Advocate for Yourself

When asked what her biggest misstep was while moving up in her career, LeeAnne Linderman, executive vice president of enterprise retail banking for Zions Bancorporation, says she didn’t advocate for herself soon enough. Even though she had strong job performance and was advancing, she saw others progressing faster in their careers, typically men who were asking for opportunities.

“One of the best mentors I’ve had in my career is Scott Anderson (president and CEO of Zions Bank),” Linderman says. “He gave me great advice. He said, ‘Yes, you should advocate for yourself.’” Vaca also talked about the importance of having the confidence to ask for opportunities and not waiting for others to suggest new positions. “Have the courage to raise your hand,” Vaca says. 

3. Develop Leadership Skills

Another way to prepare for corporate board leadership is through formal training. Patricia Pineda, who serves on the board of directors for Levi Strauss & Co., Frontier Airlines and Aspen Institute, recommends attending a board-ready program. These programs are available through universities and organizations like the National Association of Corporate Directors. In Utah, for example, the Women’s Leadership Institute provides corporate director training.

She also suggests getting real-world experience by serving on a nonprofit board with a developed board structure and committees that mirror a corporate board.

“You have the opportunity to develop leadership skills, hone your leadership skills and demonstrate your leadership skills,” Pineda says. “On those boards there are CEOs, corporate board members and senior executives who are also engaged because they love that organization — and they’re going to see you in action. That’s how I got on my first board.” 

"I think women have the power to progress one another if they’ll stand together and speak up."

4. Look for Mentors and Be a Mentor

The panelists say help from mentors is also important. Linderman suggests self-selecting mentors rather than waiting for volunteers. If there’s someone with a specific skill, such as public speaking, have the confidence to reach out and ask for help. The panelists also recommend that women look for male mentors.

“The strongest voice for the advancement of women is, quite frankly, men,” Vaca says. In fact, she says most of her opportunities have come from men.

Both genders play a role in diversifying corporate leadership. As women advance in their careers, they can also mentor and advocate for other women. “I think women have the power to progress one another if they’ll stand together and speak up,” Linderman says.

Photos by Kevin Kiernan.

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