Beth Michaels Primer, president of Primer, Michaels, is co-author of the first leadership book for the investment industry and a leadership professor for Northwestern University graduate programs. Beth will host an exclusive webinar on November 21 titled Women on Corporate Boards: Confronting Reality. Below, Beth previews a few key insights that she will share in her session. As business research continues to affirm gender disparity in company leadership, the difference female corporate leaders make is becoming clearer. This is particularly true in board rooms in the U.S. and abroad. The number of women in the U.S. who serve on corporate boards remains disproportionately low. In 2011, U.S. women held just 16.1 percent of board seats. In both 2010 and 2011, about one-tenth of the companies said they had no women at all serving as board members, the same study found. The absence of women on corporate boards is an issue for a number of key reasons: Leadership research indicates that board quality impacts company results. As women impact board quality, it follows that better gender balance supports better board quality. Gender diversity is a rated component for investor decision-making, because female leadership is correlated to better work climate and for customer service. Perhaps the most compelling short term reason the absence of women on boards is important is that we’ve learned that the absence of female leadership overall can be tied to a lack of female directors. We used to think that we aren’t seeing more women at the top because we haven’t had enough high potential women in the career pipeline. We know now that we have a demand issue, not a supply issue. Female directors lead for better gender equity and appoint more female senior executives than do male directors. Now we know how female contributions to boards are distinctly different from what men bring. We also know how these differences impact a company’s performance. One key example is how female directors bring process excellence to board work, enhancing the quality of the board’s strategic deliberations and decision-making. Companies are starting to recognize the opportunity lost by not bringing better gender balance to their leadership teams. Examples of actions taken include: Women on Boards 20/20 is an initiative which includes an effort to create a global data base of strong female board candidates. Countries are legislating gender equity on boards. Companies are mandating gender based key performance indicators. Flexible hours and career supports are in play, particularly when women take career breaks for family priorities. There are a number of things women can do to support their potential candidacy for board appointment. Examples include: Understand the process of becoming a board member, starting with your own company. Identify the strengths and skills you bring that match the board’s required competencies; consider your core interests related to your strengths and where the best fit might be, thinking about company and board team culture. If you haven’t had board experience, start getting experience and work your way up: chair committees, get on nonprofit boards, and lead nonprofit boards. Network, network, network. Let others know your interest; prepare your CV and your pitch. Continue the conversation by joining the webinar on November 21, 2013.