Gender equity is an increasing priority for corporate boards. As more seats open for women, a new program prepares female executives to seize these valuable opportunities.

October 12, 2021

PHILADELPHIA, PA: If you ask someone to picture a corporate board, they will probably imagine a long conference table full of directors in suits, all of them men. That traditional image isn’t far off — among the largest 500 public U.S. companies by revenue, only about a quarter of board members are female, according to Reuters. At the largest 3,000 public U.S. companies, it’s only one in five, or 20%, according to a recent NPR report.

But increasing political, societal, and regulatory pressures are forcing corporate boards to address the issue of diversity and inclusion particularly as it pertains to their own board members. In August, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved new listing rules regarding board diversity and disclosure. The new rules require a Nasdaq-listed company to have at least two diverse directors, or the company will have to explain why it has failed to do so.

With more powerful institutions and government regulators pushing for greater diversity and inclusion, there are potentially thousands of board seats opening up for women and people of color in the coming years. As many as 6,000 new board seats could become available to women and minority executives in the U.S. alone.

Wharton Executive Education has launched a new program called Women on Boards: Building Exceptional Leaders to help women executives improve their odds of winning these coveted seats. Wharton Professor and Academic Director Mary-Hunter McDonnell says the program, which starts in December, aims to prepare women executives for every stage of the journey. “We're going to empower our participants to find their seat, to market themselves to boards, and to be an effective board member,” she says.

An important step in getting noticed by boards is building your personal brand, according to McDonnell. She plans to show participants how to strategically deploy social media, choose the right speaking engagements, and construct a powerful network, as well as polish their board bio, CV, and LinkedIn profile. The idea is for participants to establish themselves as recognized experts so boards will seek them out.

McDonnell will help attendees cultivate relationships with existing board members and other key players including nomination committees, search firms, and external counsel. They will learn the key questions to ask when considering a board seat, and how to identify the right fit for them. Negotiating offers, including compensation packages, will be covered as well.

McDonnell also aims to prepare women executives to assume the obligations of their first public board seat, exploring how directors execute their monitoring responsibilities. Plus, she will have sessions designed to “help you navigate the politics and culture of a board, and how to make yourself a voice that's heard, recognized, and effective in the boardroom.”

Of the new program, the Wharton School’s Dean Erika James — herself the first woman dean in Wharton’s 140-year history — comments: “A program such as Women on Boards is critical for promoting the kind of diversity that helps organizations succeed. That’s what allows an organization to be competitive and innovative. This program also aligns with the Wharton School’s mission of preparing our students to become leaders at diverse organizations, which helps elevate our graduates and sets them apart.”

Women on Boards: Building Exceptional Leaders is part of the suite of Wharton LIVE virtual offerings. Wharton LIVE programs optimize technology, integrate seamlessly into a changing work environment, and are structured to maximize learning, with time for networking and reflection.

For more information about this program, visit: Women on Boards: Building Exceptional Leaders.


About the Wharton School

Founded in 1881 as the first collegiate business school, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is recognized globally for intellectual leadership and ongoing innovation across every major discipline of business education. With a broad global community and one of the most published business school faculties, Wharton creates economic and social value around the world. The School has 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA, and doctoral students; more than 13,000 participants in executive education programs annually; and a powerful alumni network of 100,000 graduates.


Media Contact

Eleena de Lisser Director of Marketing CommunicationsAresty Institute of Executive Education
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
+1.215.898.7239 execed-pr@wharton.upenn.edu