Board Range Helps Affect the Backside Line

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A Conversation with DPP Director Doneene Damon on the Importance of Women as Allies in the Boardroom

Women currently hold 20% of board seats for companies listed on the NASDAQ and the Russell 3000 index and account for half of all new board appointments to companies on the S&P 500. Women can be powerful allies for one another — and for Delaware — as they earn more and more seats at the leadership table on corporate and nonprofit boards.

Delaware Prosperity Partnership Board of Directors member Doneene Keemer Damon, president and director of the prominent Delaware law firm Richards, Layton & Finger, PA, and Board chair for DPP partner ChristianaCare, recently joined Carter Franke, chair of the Board of Directors at Sallie Mae, for the candid conversation “Women as Allies in the Board Room” as part of the “Allyship, Advocacy and Accompliceship” webinar series. The series was hosted by the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business & Economics Women’s Leadership Initiative and supported by DPP; Richards, Layton & Finger; ChristianaCare; SallieMae; and other sponsors.

DPP is grateful to Damon and the three additional exceptional women leaders on its Board of Directors – Jeanmarie Desmond, retired chief financial officer of DuPont; Robin Morgan, Ph.D., provost of the University of Delaware; and Richelle Vible, executive director of Catholic Charities – for their service. What follows is a Q & A of Damon’s perspective on board diversity and women as allies in the board room.

Why is board diversity so important and, more specifically, why is it important to have women at the table?

DKD: Having a diverse board and management team means better outcomes for businesses and organizations. Women and other minorities bring perspectives based on their life experiences that are vastly different from those of other members. Boards should represent the communities they serve, and those communities are most certainly diverse. Having individuals who can look at decisions with different lenses helps the board land on a better decision and results in better outcomes.

How does having a diverse board lead to different and better decisions?

DKD: While I can’t speak to the experience of all African Americans or of all women, I can speak to my own experiences. Having someone in the room who can talk about his or her own experience — whether as a woman or as a minority — allows the organization to have a much deeper conversation around disparities and around how the community perceives the organization. It also helps the organization understand how the community receives information and helps effectuate change to better address those issues. It’s difficult to have that perspective in a room of all white males, and that really matters in some very important decisions. Unless we have the right representation in the room to bring credence and context, we won’t get to the right decisions. Also, women often bring an empathetic lens to the conversation, which helps a board get to the right outcome. Having women in the room absolutely makes a difference!

Are women natural allies, and what does it mean to be an ally in the boardroom? Is there a trickle-down impact from the board to women in the organization?

DKD: The expectation that all women think in identical ways is not necessarily true. We do think similarly, but not identically. Being an ally doesn’t mean we always agree on every point, but women tend to be supportive in identifying others who can be effective leaders and creating a path to placement — and then helping those women to develop and grow.

Allyship is about giving women a voice.

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