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DECEMBER 2013 - 20%
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20% By 2020

A Campaign to Increase the Number of Women Serving on America's Corporate Boards

by Courtney A. Powers


2020 Women on Boards is a non-profit organization with a mission to increase the percentage of women on U.S. corporate boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020.  Currently, only 16.6% of board seats on Fortune 500 corporations are held by women. In California, almost half of the 400 largest public corporations have no women on their boards.  The goal of the organization is for corporate boards to reflect the diversity of the shareholders, employees and customers of the company, particularly women.  According to 2020 Women on Boards, three women directors per board is the critical mass necessary to represent women’s perspectives and experiences in governance.  

As part of a campaign to raise awareness on this issue, 2020 Women on Boards held a luncheon in Los Angeles on November 12th attended by over 200 women.   I attended the event as co-chair of WLALA’s Outreach Committee, a new committee designed in part to develop relationships with other women’s professional organizations.  The lunch included a panel discussion by current corporate directors, including Lydia H. Kennard, Director, URS Corp., ProLogis Inc.;  Diana Bontá, Director, American States Water Co.; and Leonard Schaeffer, Director, RAND Corp., Amgen (ret. 7/13).    

The panelists encouraged attendees interested in serving on corporate boards to acquire relevant experience early in their careers.  Boards generally look for directors to serve ten years and many corporations impose age limits.  Serving on the board of a non-profit organization can be a great way to attain experience and make an impact that raises your profile among those searching for corporate directors.  Panelists emphasized that while corporations may be interested in board candidates’ particular expertise, all board members need the experience and knowledge to provide broad strategic advice to the corporation.  The panelists cautioned, for example, that attorneys may not be marketable based solely on their legal expertise because most corporations already have a general counsel.  Attorneys need to demonstrate an ability to provide overall strategy and oversight.  Panelists also discussed the importance of financial literacy and the ability to read and understand financial statements.  

In terms of evaluating particular opportunities, the panelists urged candidates to conduct sufficient due diligence before joining a board, such as identifying the insurance coverage provided for directors and officers and any conflicts of interest a candidate may need to navigate.  They also emphasized the importance of the board being a "good fit” for the candidate in terms of being able to collaborate and work with other board members as well as the executive leadership of the corporation.  

Panelists encouraged candidates ready for corporate directorships to think carefully about how to market themselves, and to let their contacts know they are interested in opportunities to serve. 

Additional information about 2020 Women on Boards is available at:

Courtney A. Powers is co-chair of WLALA's Outreach Committee and is Vice President and General Counsel of GRACE, a non-profit organization sponsored by the Daughters of Charity with a mission to address the needs of low-income families and children.