November 17

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Women on Boards – Why We Need More of Them with Bonnie Hagemann

By Mimi MacLean

November 17, 2021


women on boards advocate Bonnie Hagemann
Bonnie Hagemann, Founder of WomenExecs on Boards

A growing need to fill the lack of equality of women in corporate board positions has inspired Bonnie Hageman to create WomenExecs on Boards Organization! Women Execs on Boards helps females find the right company to join the board once they have been through Harvard’s training program. She is also the CEO of EDA Inc., a premium capital firm focused on C-suite officers. She sat down with us to talk about her work as a visionary leadership expert, how and why women should aim for Senior Exec. board positions, and her advice for female founders and entrepreneurs – you don’t have to do it all!

“Get out there, ask people to help you get on boards. And get yourself in senior executive positions.” – Bonnie

Find Bonnie, EDA Inc, and Women Execs on Board

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE

Episode Contents

The Inspiration Behind Her Women Execs on Board Organization

Photographer: S O C I A L . C U T | Source: UnsplashPhotographer: S O C I A L . C U T | Source: Unsplash

Bonnie, thank you so much for coming on. I'm excited to talk about all that you do. There are so many things between your books and your company. And then the first thing I'd love to start out on is talking about your WomenExecs on Boards.

Bonnie:
I would love to talk about that, and thank you for having me on the program.

Mimi:
You're welcome. You're welcome. Yeah, I was really excited to see the WomenExecs on Boards because I do know from my book that I just released, there's just not many women on boards or in C-suites, and to approach that and figure out why that's happening and help women get on those positions. So I'm glad to see that you started that. Can you talk a little bit about why you started it and how you did that?

Bonnie:
Yes, I would love to. So in 2016, Harvard ran a program called Women on Boards: Succeeding as a Corporate Director. And so it was the very first one that they had ever run. I had told some people that I was interested in being on boards because I was doing quite a bit of work with boards in my work in human capital at the top of the house. What my company does is we do custom executive development, C-suite coaching, succession planning, all that stuff. So we work right at the top of the house, 5%. And so I deal with a lot of boards because I've personally coached over 200 CEOs and C-suite leaders. And so because of all that, I wanted to sit on a private or public board on one of the larger companies that we've been on. I wanted to sit on the other side of the table.

Bonnie:
And so I started telling people, "This is what I'm looking for." And two people, on the same day, sent me this invite that came from Harvard. And really, to be honest, I never thought about going to an executive program at Harvard. But I felt like that was a sign. So I decided to go ahead and apply for it. And the criteria was that you had to be in a senior executive position that you had to be basically someone who's on a public company board had to say, "This would make a good board member, this person," or it had to be one of the Harvard professors. And so I applied, I was able to get in and I showed up there and there were 67 women from 17 countries and they were really high level.

Bonnie:
People, just in my small group, were the CEO of Cable One, one of the most powerful people, not women, people, in Saudi Arabia. There was the woman who was over women's equality at UNESCO. These are just huge, big, big, big jobs. And it was different cause I'd never been in a program with all women before, but it was also great. And we tried to stay together afterwards with phone calls and then co-author of my new book, Lisa Pent, she was keeping us together with these phone calls every two weeks after the program. And about a year and a half into, I went into her and said, "I think we need to do more." We were slow in our progress to get on boards, really slow. And I felt like we needed to do more.

Bonnie:
And I had sat down and made a database of all the women from the first two classes, ours and the next year, and I just put their contact information so we could see each other. And when I finished that little exercise, and I did it for myself, mostly because I travel, I wanted to meet them. And I finished the exercise and I thought, "Whoa." I just thought about all of their databases and who they knew and thought about the power that they have individually and what we could do collectively. And so from that, I went to Lisa and said, "What do you think about forming a formal network?" And she liked it and we did it. And so we co-founded this network and now we have over 200 members from 23 countries.

Getting More Women on Boards

Mimi:
That's amazing. And so with this network, do boards approach you or do you help women get on boards, or how does that process work?

Bonnie:
Yeah. So what we do is we support each other in multiple ways. One is just support. We help everybody get ready. It's sort of the transition from classroom to boardroom. And a lot of the women are already on big boards and they're helping the others. But basically we help with education, getting your stuff ready and we actively go out and do the networking, and we bring in our Rolodexes basically. And we try to get people to see what we have here. And so we've been able to gain quite a few people who are coming to us for the board seats now. And so that is exactly what we want. We want to be the group that they start with when they start looking for women on boards, because we have both the quality and the diversity.

Mimi:
That's great. Because right now I do feel like there's a push to get women on boards and women in C-suites. I think people are starting to slowly acknowledge the fact that there is not enough and it's good for the bottom line to have diversity. So what do you think is the reason, if there is a reason, why there hasn't been? Is it because the women don't have the background to be on the board or is it just because it's just a boy's network and therefore it was like out of sight out of mind, like someone's looking to be on a board? Is this the only path to get on a board or is there other paths?

Bonnie:
Well, there are lots of paths and they all start with networking. I will say that. The number one way a woman could get on a board is to tell every single person that she knows that she wants one and ask people to help her. I have thought about all of this quite a bit, why is this? And so I wrote a book about the women in the network, it's called The Courage to Advance, it just came out. And we basically covered five leadership competencies. They're really hard to teach, competencies. It's resiliency, courage, adaptability, sense making and vulnerability. Those things are hard to teach. But they're easier to teach if you see them in a story. And so what we did was we took 36 of the women in the network and we did stories in those five categories.

Bonnie:
And when I finished that, I was thinking about what your question. And I was thinking, how did we get here? How did we get to this place where it was so hard for women not just to get on the boards, but also at senior executive positions? So I asked a man, a white male man who's on lots of boards, "How did we get here?" And he said, "When people get in power, they like to keep it. And it's not that they don't want women on the boards, but that's part of it, is keeping this power." And it's not keeping power over women, it's just there's so many seats. And you know what happens in the board, this is how most board members are chosen.

Bonnie:
There's a board seat coming up. The board chair says, "We have this seat coming up. We're going to need to start thinking about who's the right person to fill that seat. Does anyone know anyone?" Or maybe it's the nominations chair? "Does anyone know anyone?" They put out some names, they talk about it, they decide one or two or more that might be interesting. "Okay, who can go to lunch and see if they'd be interested?" Then they go to lunch. Then they come back with a few candidates and they say, "Okay, now we're going to send them to the recruiter." That's when the recruiters get involved, not before. Only when it's a really hard to fill seat, does it start with the recruiter? So the networking is really hard. So that was one piece. So people, they'll get their friends on, they'll do favors and they're hanging out with who they hang out with. So that, I think, has a lot to do with it.

Bonnie:
And then the other piece is we don't have enough women in senior executive positions. We've got 50% of the workforce, but it gets less and less and less as we go up the pipeline, right? From all that coaching I did, I see a couple of things. One is, I think women pull themselves out a lot. Whether it's because of they need to take care of their children and the way that work is done today is not always conducive for that. Or parents, women just take on more of the caretaking for the family, at least historically. So that's part of it. I also see that women lead differently. And when I see a woman and a man, and they're both going for the CEO position as an example, the woman will say, "Yes, I'd like to have it," and "I know I'm qualified. I actually think I'm probably the best candidate. However, I can work for him, he can work for me." Right?

Bonnie:
And I've been in the situation where I'm coaching both of those people. And I was like, "I don't think so. I think he's going for that job." Because men are very competitive and just naturally women are more collaborative. So what I tell women everywhere is get the job and then you can be collaborative. You can totally change the way the leadership is done, but you can't do it until you get the job. So go for it with your whole heart.

Mimi:
Yeah. Ask for it. Go in and ask, right?

Bonnie:
Yes.

Mimi:
And expect more.

Bonnie:
And make your case. Beyond asking. Let's fight for the job. Make your case, "I'm the better candidate. Here's why." There are probably lots of reasons, but those are a couple that I've come up with.

Buying an Established Company – Her Experience

Mimi: That's great. I see that you, the company that you're in now, EDA Inc., you purchased back in the mid-2000s, I think it was 2007. So can you talk about that? I love the fact that you bought a company instead of starting from the ground up. And so can you talk about why you decided to already buy an established company versus starting with your skills and developing it from the beginning?

Bonnie:
Well, actually, I did both. So I used to work for the company that publishes the MBTI, the assessment, Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, most people have taken at some point in their career. And in 2001, I decided to leave. Now, it was a great company and it was a great job, but no one was moving. So if I wanted to grow, I needed to leave. And they were changing the way they were doing consultative sales, which is where I was. And so I just felt like I wanted to be more on the consulting side. So I left in 2001 with their blessing, they actually sent clients. I started doing this business. We were leadership development and coaching. So it's workshops, mostly, career and assessment centers, things like that and coaching. That's pretty much all it was. And we were doing pretty good.

Bonnie:
So we were growing and I wanted to have a firm, not a practice, not just me. I wanted to have more people and to really run a company. So in about 2007, 2006 around there, I needed to grow some more and decided I would either get acquired or do an acquisition. So I hired, two different times I've hired business coaches because my background is counseling psychology. And so I knew I didn't have what I needed to go learn how to raise money, do acquisitions, all those things. And so I hired coaches and they helped me tremendously. And I was doing the dual track, looking at both, getting acquired, acquiring. And I had an offer on the table to get acquired. And it was a pretty good offer. But the night before we had seen EDA and I just couldn't pass it up. It was like I have to try this, because EDA was founded in 1982. It was a pioneer and executive development.

Bonnie:
Our founder, Jim Bolt, he came out of Xerox and the whole company was built on the idea that we would tie all executive development strategy. We would not do one thing that didn't help advance the strategy of the company. And so it had to do dual purpose, develop the individual, advance the strategy. And he had built a great brand. We're known around the world. We do trends research in this space. And so I really wanted to do it. So we did it. We did the acquisition. Then 2008 came, we went through a huge downturn. And by that time now I've led through 2001 downturn, and now I've led through 2008 downturn, which was we lost 70% of the business. And then in 2012, I said, "I'm not going to keep doing this. I'm going to start building technology." And so now we're actually transforming the company. We've gone from Executive Development Associates to EDA so that we can become much more of a tech company and start equipping our clients instead of just doing for them.

Mimi:
Yeah. I noticed that you have a SaaS. Could you talk a little bit about that as well?

Bonnie:
I can, yes. We're super excited about this. So our platform is designed to make culture visible to the leaders, the board, the investors, and potential employees. And so we do that by being the one stop up shop enterprise wide for all surveys. So every culture survey, 360, every department survey, sales. We do have a customer survey platform. But if the company's doing surveys of any kind for your meetings, your outreaches, anything, we would be the platform. And all that data's going into one place and then we're pulling the patterns and pulling that up to give this dashboard. And we will have AI, which you don't have to use it, but the customer can check the box if they want to use it or not. But if they do, they will get real time sentiment, the real time tone in the company, they'll be able to see it on their dashboard. And the place where we're going further than anyone has gone, that I know of, is getting this culture dashboard to the board and the investors. That has not been done, and I think we're in a unique space to be able to do it.

Mimi:
That's great. That's the way to go. Did you transition who your customer was? Was your customer individuals, and then because of the SaaS, now you're more hired by companies or was it always companies?

Bonnie:
Always been companies. Yeah.

Mimi:
Okay.

Bonnie:
We rarely deal directly with an individual. Usually if we do it's because we had a coach in there and they were coaching them and now they left and they want to do one on one or they didn't leave, but the company's not paying anymore and they want to pay for themselves.

Mimi:
That's great.

Bonnie:
But other than that, we're B2B.

Why Women On Boards Are a Rarity

advice for women on boards

Mimi:
That's great. One of the things I touch on in my book and I touch on each week is lessons learned for female entrepreneurs. What makes somebody super successful? What makes them get to that 1.7%, million dollars in sales that only such a small number of female entrepreneurs get there? And so what do you think it is? I know you touched on it a little bit because of your book earlier in the conversation. But if there's one takeaway or a lesson that they can learn to get there, what would that be?

Bonnie:
Perseverance. I think that hard work, perseverance, and you do have to continually develop yourself. I've been a voracious reader. I've taken every class I could afford to take to develop myself, to keep getting better, to be an expert in human capital. And so we have to decide what that, I always say the 20, 30, 40 year plan. If I have that out in front of me and I make all my decisions based on that, is it going to help us get there? If it's not, why are we doing it? I think those things are very helpful. And I'll give you the advice that I was giving when our business was upside down, when we lost 70% of our business.

Bonnie:
We were over a million dollars upside down. And so I went to one of my advisory board members, he was the Dean of the Senior Service College in Huntsville, Alabama. And he said to me, "Look, it's going to be okay." And he was 75. And he said, "You're going to be okay. You keep the company up, keep your head down, take one step at a time and keep going." And nothing changed that day in reality. But what he said gave me hope. And if he hadn't have said that to me, I probably would've quit. It was so long, so hard, three years no paycheck and three days off. And so I think sometimes you got to find somebody to give you a little hope too.

Mimi:
No, it's true. Because long day is hard. Right? You don't have the opportunity to work for free, to get through the bad times. One thing I see continuously is that people say human capital and their team, their team that they surround themselves with is the most important asset to growing a company. And since the that's your expertise, what would you say is probably the biggest takeaway or the best advice you can give somebody to finding that? Doesn't everybody want a great team, right? So how do you find that great team?

Bonnie:
Well, be flexible. That's a big one. We're having this great resignation right now with everybody, over 50% of the workforce is actively looking for different jobs. I think a lot of it had to do with COVID and some of it has to do with going back to work. But some of it has to do with vaccines, but a lot of it just had to do with us rethinking who we are and how we want to spend our time. And so I was thinking about this yesterday. It's like, I'm not worried about losing my voice because they're happy here. I know they're happy. They are contributing. They all have a voice. We listen to them, we listen to each other. We help and push back. And the other thing is I do not require my employees to have childcare are separate from themselves. If they can do their job and they can keep their kids, it's fine with me. Just make sure that we don't interrupt the client with crying kids or something like that.

Bonnie:
You have to be professional because we're dealing with senior, senior executives. But at the same time, if your life is fulfilled and you can have your kids at home, I don't care. You have them on your lap talking to me. If we're talking to a client, I prefer you didn't. But we just have to be really flexible. So I think pay as well as you can. Entrepreneurs can't always pay at the top. But pay as well as you can, give them flexibility, let them work from home if they want to work from home. We've been 100% virtual since 2008.

Mimi:
Oh wow.

Bonnie:
And be flexible. If it doesn't matter when they get the work done and they can work three hours in the morning and then another four or five hours at night, depending on their job role, who cares you. If they don't have to be in a meeting, who cares when they work. So we're really results-oriented. I think that helps.

Open Communication is Essential for Good Leadership

Mimi:
What do you do though? You mentioned open communication. Do you have a weekly meeting on Zoom? How do you keep that communication going when you're virtual?

Bonnie:
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Good question. So we have all kinds of systems in place to help us both keep a culture and to communicate. We went 100% with Microsoft product. So that was one piece that we decided to do. So we did Microsoft Teams, we use that. Before that we used Facebook Chat and we just had groups. But we chat all day long. We're always communicating, both with individuals and with the large groups, through Microsoft Teams. And then we have rhythm meetings for every area that we would need rhythm meetings for. So I have a senior leadership team meeting, I have a regular meeting with my CTO, regular meeting with my CFO. We call them rhythm meetings. And marketing will have a rhythm meeting and all the different options.

Mimi:
Why do you call it rhythm meetings?

Bonnie:
Because I say we put a heartbeat in it.

Mimi:
Oh, okay.

Bonnie:
You can count on it.

Mimi:
Yep. That's great, that's great. Looking back at your career and as you've been growing your company, what has been the biggest mistake you've made? I read something, one of your mistakes. I don't want to say because maybe you have another one.

Bonnie:
Go ahead.

Mimi:
It was the one about the family, hiring a family member. So I don't know if that's still one of your bigger mistakes or if you have other mistakes.

Bonnie:
That was not the biggest mistake, no. They were asking for a funny mistake. That was that kind of. What was funny about it is she really wanted to do something else and I needed her to do something else because she wasn't really doing the job and neither one of us wanted to tell each other. So that was the hard part. So now, if I hire a family member, and I have recently hired a couple, I tell them we have to talk to each other. Don't worry, I'll support you if you want to leave, but have to be able to be honest with each other.

Bonnie:
So the biggest mistake, I made so many. I don't even know where to start. One big mistake that stands out is getting hooked into contracts for events. And I ended up losing-

Mimi:
It's so expensive.

Bonnie:
Yes, it's so expensive. And the hotels, they'll mail you to the wall when you're having events. We lost $100,000 in an event that didn't go, early in 2008, right after the acquisition. The downturn's happening, which is part of the reason it didn't go. But the hotels wouldn't let you out. It wasn't like now where we have government help. There was no help. And so you just lost it. In a timeline, the economy was going down already.

Mimi:
How do you get around that though?

Bonnie:
Well, you didn't get around it. We paid it.

Mimi:
No, but I'm saying, going forward, how would you get around it? If you want to have an event, that's what you have to do. Right?

Bonnie:
Right. I would be a lot more sure, I think, of fulfilling it or get with more flexible hotels. Maybe they're better now. I don't know. We try not to have events like that anymore.

Mimi:
Yeah. It's too expensive.

Bonnie:
We try to do all of ours internal for the most part.

Her Advice For Women Who Want To Be On A Board

Photographer: Jason Goodman | Source: Unsplash

Mimi:
Okay. To conclude, is there anything we haven't covered or any last minute advice that you would give any entrepreneurs or anybody who's looking to be on a board?

Bonnie:
Yes. So first, I would love to encourage people to read the book. You'll get all of that from these stories because every story is of a woman who reached their highest achievement, the hardest thing they've been through and how they got through it. And there are people in there who sold businesses to Amazon, who became CEOs of big companies, who are on the Nike board, Boeing boards, all these boards. So that would be a great place to go.

Bonnie:
The advice for boards is network network, network. Get out there, ask people to help you get on boards. And get yourself in senior executive positions. Get the title. Get the CEO, the CFO, get those C-suite titles if you can. And then just advice to the listeners. I listen to some of your podcasts and thinking about entrepreneurs and trying to be a great boss and all of that. I would say, as far as being an entrepreneur, don't do it if you can help yourself. But if you can't help yourself, like me, then do something that's in the area that you really love because you may work really long hours for a long time and you want to be doing something that matters to you.

Mimi:
That's great. It's so true. I think you either have it in your blood or you don't.

Bonnie:
I do too. I even told my kids this, "Don't do it. Get in a company, climb the ladder. It's easier." But it's also an addiction.

Mimi:
Yeah. It's funny because that's a different phrase. I give my kids, even in the car yesterday driving, I'm like, "Figure out, you want to be your own boss. Allows you to have flexibility and it allows you to see the path and do what you want to do. But you have to then be willing to take the risk."

Bonnie:
Yes. You have to be willing to take the risk. Exactly.

Mimi:
Well, thank you so much, Bonnie. So if anybody wants to find Bonnie, the best way to do that is on her LinkedIn, and it's Bonnie Hagemann.

Bonnie:
That's right.

Mimi:
I'll have the link underneath, in the show notes.

Bonnie:
Yes, exactly. Please reach out to me. I'd love to hear from you. And thank you so much, Mimi.

Mimi:
Thank you very much.

Mimi:
Thank you for joining us on The Badass CEO. To get your copy of the Top 10 Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at Mimi@thebadassceo.com. See you next week and thank you for listening.

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