Minnesota group strives to get more women of color on public company boards

Women have made incremental strides over the past 10 years in gaining more seats on the board of directors of public companies in Minnesota, but women of color, initially under-represented, have made little or no success. earnings.

Among Minnesota public companies, the number of female directors increased from 129 to 153 from 2016 to 2020, but the number of women of color has not changed from 24, according to the Minnesota Chapter of Women Directors of companies (WCD).

Although progress was made in 2021 with 15 new women of color securing board seats, they still only represent 6% of available board seats in Minnesota. The Minnesota WCD estimates that fair representation would be 20%.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last year, the group looked at the diversity of its own members, provided its members with basic statistics so they could advocate for diversity and inclusion issues on their boards Directors, and launched its first cohort of Women of Color to give them the preparation and resources they need to become board members.

The first cohort included 28 local women, and so far six of them have been appointed to for-profit boards, including Kelly Baker, director of human resources at Minneapolis-based Thrivent. She joined the board of directors of Ferguson, a $ 22 billion-a-year homebuilding and supplies company.

Another member of the first cohort, Lorinda Burgess, vice president of finance for North America at Medtronic, has been named to the board of directors of Stepan Co., a $ 2 billion a year chemicals maker. .

Kim Nelson, who retired in January 2018 as senior vice president of external relations at General Mills, said a program like the one established by WCD would have helped her.

“If you get the contacts and introductions are made to recruiters, and help you with resources,” said Nelson, who served on the pipeline committee for WCD’s second cohort. “We can move this thing a lot faster.”

It took almost a year and a half for Nelson to be appointed to its first board of directors. She now sits on the boards of three public companies: Tate & Lyle, an ingredient supplier to food and beverage companies; Cummins Inc., an engine and powertrain manufacturer; and Colgate-Palmolive, a consumer packaged goods company.

Now the program has attracted the attention of other chapters of the WCD that may replicate it.

“We created this program,” Nelson said. “We actively share experience and all best practices and learnings with all other chapters of the WCD.”

Other members of the First Cohort held positions on the board of directors of M Health Fairview, a Minnesota community bank and public biopharmaceutical company.

The Minnesota Chapter as a whole has 75 members, including senior executives and women who own their own businesses. These women are all well connected within the community and they had no problem putting together a second cohort of 21 women – even after refining and codifying their selection process.

For the second cohort, participants had to commit to serving on the board of directors within one year.

The Minnesota WCD program comes at a time when new rules are taking hold in terms of service to the board of directors of public companies.

In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved a new rule to increase transparency around board diversity. It requires companies to disclose the gender, racial characteristics and self-identified LGBTQ status of their board members or to explain in their power of attorney why they do not have a number of diverse board members. .

California has required state-owned companies based there to have at least one female board member by the end of 2019 and two by the end of 2021. Eleven other states have adopted or are considering similar measures. .

In recent years, there has been a slight increase in listed companies, creating more positions on the board of directors of public companies. Eight Minnesota companies were among nearly 400 companies that completed their initial public offering this year, and more are set to complete IPOs in 2022.

Searching for board seats is different from applying for a job or advancing in a career. The Minnesota WCD has developed a three-step program to increase diversity and dramatically reduce the learning curve to become a board member.

The program emphasizes diversifying its own membership, connecting with appropriate sources in the board investment community, and building a pipeline of ready-made Minnesota-based women of color. to be integrated.

Mentoring sessions also help cohort members understand what skills and perspectives they can bring to a board and how to be effective board members.

Jeninne McGee of Ameriprise Financial is part of the second cohort. She has 30 years of experience with financial services firm Fortune 500, most recently as Chief Risk Officer. She has an accounting background and has worked in Ameriprise’s operations, technology and insurance operations. As Chief Risk Officer, she interacts regularly with Ameriprise’s board of directors.

She also has experience as a non-profit board. She is a Trustee of her alma mater Carleton College and sits on the Investment Committee of the Minnesota Opera Board of Trustees and is currently completing her term as YWCA Minneapolis President.

Yet the interactions and responsibilities of for-profit boards are different, and McGee said she hopes the WCD program will help her fill this knowledge gap.

“One of the things that I hope to take away from the cohort is to gain a better understanding of what that role is and what is expected,” McGee said. “And what would make a really great director, you know, how to get really good at that.”

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