Pittsburgh Hosts Another Successful National Conversation on Board Diversity

Excellence. Experience. Exposure. To reach the boardroom, all three are needed.”

That was the central theme from yesterday’s program for The National Conversation on Board Diversity, an event of 2020 Women on Boards. Having heard personal stories and best practices from amazing and inspiring leaders, the truth of those words is more evident than ever.

This is the third year that Christy Uffelman and Align Leadership have had the honor of chairing the National Conversation on Board Diversity in Pittsburgh.  In conjunction with Event Chair, Kristen Hemmings of Coghill Investment Strategies, Janel Skelley of the Allegheny Conference, all of the panelists, table facilitators, and sponsors, the event committee and host committee, and the many local organizations who have worked in this space for years, we can proudly say that 2017 is the year that 2020 Women on Boards achieved it’s goal of reaching 20% female representation on corporate boards (among the 801 Fortune 1000 companies the organization tracks). Amazingly, this is a full three years ahead of schedule! Clearly, excellence, experience, and exposure, have started to pay off for many qualified women.

Stephanie Sonnabend, the Founder of 2020 Women on Boards, joined us to share the mission of the organization and several key findings. Leroy Ball, President and CEO of Koppers (and 2016 Board Diversity Ambassador Award Winner) presented this year’s award to Henry Maier, President and CEO of FedEx Ground. Diane Holder, Executive Vice President of UPMC and President and CEO of UPMC Health Plan and Insurance Services, moderated our panel discussion which was centered on how women can better prepare themselves for board service. Our esteemed panelist of board members were Jim Chiafullo, Member, FNB Corporation Board of Directors; Kay Coles James, Member, PNC Board of Directors; W. Howard Morris, Member, Owens Corning Board of Directors; and Sandy Volpe, Member, Republic Services Inc. Board of Directors. We were also proud to welcome many distinguished guests, including Ambassador Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor and former delegate to the United Nations.

Finally, we were honored to have the Chairman of Denny’s Corporation, Pittsburgh’s own Brenda Lauderback as our keynote speaker. Brenda shared her board trajectory story along with best practices and lessons learned, a truly inspiring story for all in attendance.  For more on Brenda’s keynote address, see Joyce Gannon’s article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (also posted below), and make sure to mark your calendars for next year’s event, slated for Thursday, November 15th.


Denny’s board chair — and Penn Hills grad — a black woman who considers herself ‘agent of change

By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As a black female launching a career in the retail industry in the 1970s, Brenda Lauderback was told countless times she wasn’t going to make it.

That kind of talk just pushed her to work harder, said the Penn Hills High School graduate who eventually retired as a top executive at Nine West Group apparel company and now chairs the board of directors at restaurant chain Denny’s.

“Very few board rooms have black or Hispanic women or men … and I’ve earned my way to be in the board room by working twice as hard [as men],” she said Thursday at the Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, during an event that focused on board diversity.

Ms. Lauderback, whose first job after graduating from Robert Morris University was in a retail training program at the now-shuttered Gimbels department store on Sixth Avenue, also serves on the boards of Sleep Number Corp. and Wolverine World Wide, and formerly was a director at Big Lots, Jostens and several other public companies.

What helped drive her success against the odds as a female and a minority, she said, was a sense of being an agent of change who could accomplish meaningful things in her roles as an executive and board member. She didn’t want to be present merely to enable companies to “just check the box” on diversity and inclusion.

Ms. Lauderback was the keynote speaker at the annual National Conversation on Board Diversity sponsored by 2020 Women on Boards, a Boston-based nonprofit that tracks the gender makeup of corporate boards.

Pittsburgh was one of 19 cities in the U.S. that held events Thursday to promote inclusion of women in board rooms. Founded in 2010, the organization’s mission is for women to hold 20 percent of board seats by the year 2020.

The group surpassed its goal this year. Women comprise 20.8 percent of board seats on 801 companies it tracked among Fortune 1000 firms. That’s up from 19.7 percent in 2016.

Though that’s three years ahead of schedule, “That’s like scoring a first touchdown,” said Stephanie Sonnabend, a co-founder of the organization who spoke at Thursday’s event.

“The game is certainly not over,” she said.

In the Pittsburgh area, women hold 20 percent of board seats on public companies, according to research by the Post-Gazette. That data includes some businesses that aren’t headquartered here but have significant operations in the region.

Among corporations based here, Ms. Sonnabend said those that achieved the highest marks on 2020’s annual Gender Diversity Index were PNC Financial Services Corp., Allegheny Technologies, PPG, Wesco International and U.S. Steel. All of their boards include 25 percent or more women directors.

Because larger, public companies on the Fortune 1000 have a better track record at recruiting female board members, 2020 has broadened its focus to include smaller and medium-sized firms that are part of the Russell 3000 Index, said Ms. Sonnabend.

Studies have found more diverse boards boost a company’s bottom line by providing more non-traditional input into management and decision making. Though women still hold far fewer board seats than men, some companies are being more aggressive about recruiting females.

In a recent analysis of 2017 corporate proxy statements, executive search firm Spencer Stuart found women and minorities comprised half of the 397 new independent directors at S&P 500 companies. Women made up 22 percent of the S&P 500 boards, the firm said.

Board diversity is critical, said Ms. Lauderback, because, “We all know the tone at the top sets the stage for everything that happens at a corporation.”

After she left Gimbels, she worked for the department store division of Target as a merchandise buyer and ascended to executive and management jobs before joining U.S. Shoe Corp. where she was president of wholesale, manufacturing and design.

When Nine West acquired U.S. Shoe, she became president of wholesale and retail before retiring in 1998.

As a leader of division teams that included black and white men and women, Ms. Lauderback recalled going to meetings where people clamored to meet the white male members of her team.

“That was before they realized I was leading the team,” she said.

Also during Thursday’s event, the Pittsburgh initiative of 2020 Women on Boards gave its annual board diversity ambassador award to David Bronczek, president and chief operating officer of FedEx Corp.

The company’s FedEx Ground subsidiary is based in Moon, and 25 percent of the parent corporation’s board are women. FedEx also has several programs in place to develop women leaders.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

This post originally appeared on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Brad HemmingsPittsburgh Hosts Another Successful National Conversation on Board Diversity