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Should women act like men to fit in?


In high school, we walk the fine line between fitting in and being our own person. But do you ever really outgrow the need to fit in? 

D'Anne Hurd, Board Director of Micronetics, was extremely candid on the topic of "Fitting In" at Women Executive Leadership's Getting on the Radar event earlier this week. Hurd says to land a corporate board seat, CEOs and other board members need to trust and feel comfortable with you. That's not easy when you're a woman and the board is all men. Hurd has sat on several all male boards. To fit in, she took up golf, learned to talk sports and made conversation around male board member's interests. 

After the program, a few women in the audience told Hurd they disagree that it's necessary to play that game to fit in with men. But Hurd speaks from experience. I admire her for knowing and doing what it takes to land on corporate boards and get into a position where she can make a significant impact. If that took playing the "fitting in" game, more power to her for recognizing it!

As a board member, Hurd makes it a mission to fill open seats with other women. She does this by sitting on the nominating committee and bringing qualified women to the board's attention. "When I roll off a board, I try to make sure the position if filled with another woman," she said. "I think every woman board member should make it their goal to continue expand the number of women on boards."

But moving the needle, actually getting more women on boards, is going to be tough, she said. There's a low amount of turnover and fewer positions as a result of recent consolidations. She thinks there should be term limits on board positions.

Fred Hassan, Partner & Managing Director for Warburg Pincus, told the audience that though diversity may make some board members feel uncomfortable, he sees a correlation with performance. Hassan is former CEO of Schering-Plough Corp and Pharmacia and sits on the Avon board, which has five women. "If a company is progressive, it has a more diverse board and it's probably doing well in the marketplace," Hassan said.

Both Hurd and Hassan believe that to achieve board diversity, companies need to broaden the requirements, opening searches to people outside the C-suites and already on boards. "It's amazing how many available candidates there are if you open the horizon," Hassan said.

Moderator Angel Angel Gallinal, partner at Egon Zehnder International, an executive search and board consultancy firm, asked Hurd and Hassan how long it takes them to get comfortable on a board. For Hurd, it typically about three meetings. "I listen hard and do my homework before I make a comment." Hassan says it usually takes him a full year. However, he doesn't worry about "fitting in" or the clubiness that can go on in the boardroom. "I focus on where I can make my contribution."

Hassan offered aspiring board members this advice: "Be well known in your own field." Hurd added: "If you're interested you have to let people know."

Readers, what are your thoughts on what it's going to take to get more diversity on boards. Do women need to work harder to get men to trust and feel comfortable around them? Or is it up to men to reach out to more women if they want the company to perform better?

(Above: Angel Gallinal, Fred Hassan, D'Anne Hurd at the Women Executive Leadership event)