Women leaders are 'invisible,' but a new initiative looks to change that
by Lillianna Byington
The Women on Boards Project aims to increase diversity on boards and kicks off with 20 private company partners, including Magic Spoon, Ancient Harvest, Alter Eco Foods and Velocity Snack Brands.
About eight months ago, Sheryl O’Loughlin, former CEO of Rebbl and Clif Bar, was talking with a "very progressive CEO" who was interested in putting a woman on his company's board of directors. When she followed up to ask what happened, the executive told her that he talked with the board and some advisors to get recommendations and he got names for two to three women. But none were available — so they just moved on.
"That kind of stuff makes me crazy because they are out there, they are just not obvious because they haven't been part of the network. They've been left out. They're invisible," she told Food Dive. "We want to make these great women visible. That's what we're doing."
O’Loughlin is co-founder and co-chair of the Women on Boards Project, a nonprofit that unveiled an initiative today that hopes to create a large network of female leaders so that companies can no longer use access to women as an excuse for why they don't hire them.
To kick it off, the Women on Boards Project is partnering with top private equity firms and an inaugural group of 20 consumer private companies to increase gender diversity and inclusion on their boards.
Of the inaugural 20 private consumer companies that have signed on to the initiative, more than half are food and beverage companies, including Magic Spoon, Ancient Harvest, The Good Bean, Alter Eco Foods and Velocity Snack Brands.
"There are a lot of reasons that companies give as to why they don't have more inclusive boards. But part of it is we need to work together as an industry in order to make it so that people know who the candidates are, so the boards are encouraged to be able to make this change," said O’Loughlin.
How will the initiative work?
Every six months, the WOB Project will support a new cohort of 20 companies who join the initiative by helping them pro bono identify candidates for their boards. The WOB Project will collaborate with each company on a candidate scorecard and compensation parameters, as well as interview and research strategy. Then the group will provide five to 10 names to each company that fit their criteria.
To find these women, the project partnered with theBoardlist, which is made up of 14,000 women, along with the network of veterans within the consumer products industry that WOB Project has already developed. O'Loughlin serves on the board of several companies, including Foodstirs and Once Upon a Farm.
"I can't tell you how many countless women come to me now because they know that I've served on some boards to say, 'How do I do it? I don't know how to get on a board. Nobody's asking me. I'm trying to see what companies are out there,'" she said. "We've got to change that dynamic. I know there's companies that see the need. I know there are tons of women that have the ability. It's just that they're invisible to each other. We're helping to make the match."
Although more women have secured board positions in recent years, the overall numbers are still low and the gender gap is still wide.
The WOB Project will also work with top private equity firms, including VMG Partners, L Catterton, Swander Pace Capital, Alliance Consumer Growth, TSG Consumer Partners, Encore Consumer Capital and CircleUp.
O’Loughlin said the PE firms committed to putting a woman on the board of one of the companies in their portfolio every six months.