Susan Stautberg: To Get More Women on Boards, Start Small

May 9 - Sarah Ashlock


I watched Sex and the City from start to finish back when streaming wasn’t a thing. As I waited for each new DVD from Netflix to arrive in snail mail, I learned about womanhood. Four friends, juggling careers and love, but always making time for friendship? It’s high time we call BS on this narrative. Four adult women with thriving careers and often-blooming love lives manage to get together for a casual lunch, an aimless shopping trip, a sunny getaway? Meanwhile, I can’t coordinate a happy hour two months from now with one friend.

Adult friendships are tough, y’all. Make time for a get together this week, with your bestie or that new girl at work. Or, be like me and just say, Maybe I’ll see you in 2020.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: More than 20 Percent

Friendships at work are essential for adult women. Once you figure out there’s always room for everyone to rise, competition vanishes and comradery grows. If your office is as dead as a door, consider outside opportunities. Just as in school you’d join in on extracurricular activities, joining a club, group or even a board can help you make connections. Boards can be industry or company-specific, or they can advise local community issues. In 2018, for example, women in the service and utility industries held more than 20 percent of board seats.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Susan Stautberg, Operating Advisor at Atlantic Street Capital

Susan Stautberg knows the stats about board membership, as a woman who has held a board position many times. She’s an advisor at Atlantic Street Capital, a private equity firm aimed to support women to join company boards and assume executive jobs.

Susan was previously the chair and co-founder of the Women Corporate Directors (WCD) Foundation. She has created a stunning organization with 80 chapters across the world, including places like Finland and Argentina. Establishing a global network of women leaders in business is no small feat, so it’s no surprise that she’s been described as a “force of nature.”

If there’s new territory to trek, Susan’s your gal. She was the first woman and one of the youngest to be in charge of a Washington TV bureau before also becoming the first television journalist chosen to be a White House Fellow. When Susan helped launch WCD, it was the first organization of its kind.

WCD has had immense sway, like influencing Chile to add a woman to its stock exchange board. When WCD came to be at Susan’s dining room table, one corporate director describes it as most likely impossible without Susan. Susan can move mountains, and mountains she moved. Although Susan estimates it will be 15 years or more before women have a fair number of spots on boards, she does, indeed, think it will happen.

Now, Harvard Business School is writing a case study on the WCD, which Susan and her co-founders sold to KPMG.

One reason boards still lack diverse membership is because the idea of women on boards hasn’t been demystified much yet. We hear that another rich, white dude joins a board of a mega-company and think, Well, that’s not us.

Start small. Join your city’s parks and recreation board or school board. Susan’s boards have both small- and large-scale focus, such as a preservation society for her local county and a council on foreign relations. She did it – and so can you.


As the formidable woman herself, Susan Stautberg, said:

"Putting women on the board isn't about 'feeling good' or 'doing good.' It's absolutely great for business."

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