WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation, the largest global membership organization of women corporate board members, today marked a new chapter in its 16-year history with the launch of a new brand identity and logo. With investment from long-time sponsor KPMG enabling WCD to become a not-for-profit foundation in 2015, the organization has now expanded to more than 75 chapters globally, dozens of which were launched with the support of KPMG partners. WCD has helped place more than 500 women on large public company and private company boards and advisory boards.
“WCD has spent years improving director education and advocating for women on boards, and we are taking this opportunity to define our mission even more clearly and expansively,” says Susan Stautberg, CEO and Chairman of WCD. “With directors challenged today more than ever by the pace of change and growing stakeholder involvement, we seek to inspire visionary boards worldwide. We are building a powerful network of women directors who can share experiences and insights with their peers, and inspire others on their boards to perform at the highest level.”
From a dining room table to a global network
Sixteen years ago, Stautberg and Nordstrom director Alison Winter, a top Northern Trust executive, gathered around the dining room table at Stautberg’s apartment in New York City with a group of other top women executives and directors: Barbara Colwell, Julie Hembrock Daum, Elaine Eisenman, Jill Kanin-Lovers, and Edie Weiner. At the time, Stautberg was running a firm she founded that assembled and managed advisory boards for businesses, governments, and nonprofits. In the year 2000, of all the directors on Fortune 500 company boards, 11.7% were women. Stautberg and Winter and the other executives recognized that women’s voices were not as strongly heard in the boardroom, and that there wasn’t a network that connected women directors with other women directors to learn from and support each other.
They began to ask themselves: how can we help get more qualified women onto corporate boards? And how can we help them in the director role once they get there?
The small group knew there was power in numbers, and began to invite other women directors into their fold. They began to expand their network beyond New York after Winter made a professional move to Chicago, which then led to the idea of establishing different “chapters” around the country. Stautberg and Winter became co-chairmen of the new organization called “WomenCorporateDirectors,” and the membership took off from there. Chapters opened then in Washington, D.C., and Boston. Soon after, when WCD was launching the Atlanta chapter, KPMG partner Chris St.Clare introduced Stautberg to KPMG leadership in New York, and the long-standing KPMG sponsorship of WCD began. In 2008, after a number of chapters opened in the U.S., WCD began to look overseas. Henrietta Holsman Fore – former U.S. Undersecretary of State and director at Exxon Mobil, General Mills, and Theravance Inc. – brought her international network and experience to the organization and joined as global co-chairman.
Strengthened by the call for more diversity on boards happening around the world, WCD launched the London chapter in 2008, and then moved into Asia with the launch of chapters in Hong Kong, then Beijing and Shanghai. In 2011, WCD launched what has become its flagship annual event , which brings together each May hundreds of top board and C-suite leaders from dozens of countries. In addition to the Global Institute, WCD began to offer regional Institutes in EMEA, Asia Pacific, and the Americas, and expanded their director education to include chair/lead director roundtables and seminars for new directors. WCD also developed, with Spencer Stuart and Professor Boris Groysberg and other researchers from Harvard Business School, of corporate directors worldwide. Additional programs include the series of reports on boardroom issues as well as WCD Board Strategy Briefings.
Today, the 75 chapters stretch from North America, Europe, and Asia to Australia, Africa, and South America, with each holding local chapter events that connect local directors with each other and provide a connection point for fellow members from other chapters globally.
Meeting growing demand for director education
While WCD has continued to add a wide range of director programs beyond its original chapter meetings, the organization will further expand its offerings to members to accomplish the four key pillars of the organization’s evolved mission:
• Inspire visionary boards worldwide – by providing education and tools that keep members engaged, informed, and high-performing as directors
• Foster a powerful, trusted, global community of influential women corporate directors
• Increase the representation of women on boards and in board leadership positions
• Increase the pipeline of qualified female board candidates
“To accomplish all of this, and stay current, we will broaden our online content to include new features such as profiles and accomplishments of some of our members, more information about new board positions, access to other board portals, and more opportunities for members to engage on emerging issues in the boardroom,” says Anand, WCD lead director.
WCD director Calderon comments, “Our members value the education they receive from their peers – insights from leaders like themselves who are tackling similar issues in their own boardrooms. We are proud of the quality content that WCD provides at Institutes and also as part of the local chapter meetings held around the globe.”
New visual identity
In addition to a newly articulated mission, WCD has developed a new visual identity. The new logo reflects both the history and legacy of WCD as well as the next chapter of growth for the organization.
In its new iteration, the logo keeps the “WCD red” that WCD has used from the beginning, a color strongly tied to the group and its events and publications. “The dynamic ‘globe’ in the new design represents the truly global nature of WCD,” says Stautberg, “and, with the tagline, reinforces WCD’s mission to inspire visionary boards worldwide.”
Continuing a legacy of increasing women on boards
Where has WCD made the greatest impact? Stautberg cites two accomplishments in particular: “First, we have fostered a vibrant community of directors who enjoy meeting with each other and learning from each other. Our members say that this global network is extremely valuable to them as directors.”
The second is in helping move the needle on women’s representation in boardrooms, even if the change is very slow. “Through our deep relationships with nominating committees, board chairs, search firms, and organizations such as the IFC, we have been able to get over 500 women onto boards or advisory boards, and we are preparing them to be the best directors they can be,” says Stautberg. “Even though the number of women on boards is still too low – 21% of the Fortune 500 today and far lower in countries across Asia and Latin America – we are getting there, and supporting women once they’re there.”
Some of the fastest growing chapters of WCD are indeed in Latin America. “There aren’t quotas mandating gender diversity on boards there, but we see so many women who are qualified and need support from each other to get considered for a board seat,” she says. The Chile chapter, one of nine WCD chapters in the region, will host the WCD Americas Institute in Santiago in March.
With more than 100 members, Japan is another big success story for WCD. The very active chapter mentors other women who want to get onto boards and has hosted the WCD Asia Institute. Members include Yuriko Koike, elected this year as the first female governor of Tokyo; Merle Okawara and Izumi Kobayashi (chapter co-chairs); and Kathy Matsui, Goldman Sachs’ Chief Japan Strategist who has influenced the workforce policies of prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Highlights from other continents include Italy, where members in the two WCD chapters there (Rome and Milan) serve on boards representing over 35% of the market capitalization in the country. Kenya, which launched in early 2015, has made particular strides in providing mentorship and training for directors, developing a three-week program for new directors seeking to improve their performance.