The Case of Fox Int'l CMO, Liz Dolan, and Why One Woman on the Board is Never Enough
By MBA Mama Team // Back in June, Elizabeth Dolan, CMO of Fox International Channels and co-founder of Satellite Sisters, committed what many would consider career suicide. She resigned as the sole female of the Quicksilver Board of Directors and then went public with the reasoning behind her decision
In her public statement, released through Fortune Magazine, Dolan acknowledged that there were multiple reasons and incidents that led to her decision but said it ultimately boiled down to unconscious bias.
"And what I learned is that even when a woman earns a seat at the table, the men can put you in a soundproof booth."
Dolan was locked out of the Quicksilver Board's decision to replace the company's (now-former) CEO. She learned of the management change by way of email during a flight. She was sent the notes of a board meeting taking place while she was in the air. After speaking with four other members, Dolan learned that the board assumed she would "be too conflicted" to fire Andy Mooney– her former colleague and current friend– and moved forward with their decision. Dolan fired back at that logic, stating that she is first and foremost a businessperson who was elected to the board because she is an accomplished global marketer, not because she was friends with the CEO. She also noted that other members of the board had 'conflicts' because of their friendships with Mooney or other C-suite executives, and were not locked out of the decision like she had been. 

"To me, it was a very clear case of unconscious bias. Because I had a previous professional relationship with the (now-former) CEO, the board assumed they knew how I would have voted based on a biased assumption that I’d vote to keep my “friend.” Because that’s what girls do, right? They make emotional decisions about friends instead of strategic decisions based on business facts. Girls can’t keep a secret. Girls are too emotional. Girls can’t make tough calls. And, thank goodness, girls won’t speak out when we marginalize them.

Well, wrong."

For two months Dolan sought the advice of trusted friends and colleagues on how she should move forward after this ridiculously disrespectful move. Many urged her not to resign for fear that it would validate the board's speculation, and even she thought for a while that maybe she just had to work harder to earn the board's respect and trust. Others urged her to resign from a board that was so blatantly disrespectful.

"Instead of trying harder to earn this board’s trust, I had to ask myself if these board members could earn mine. My answer was no."

She resigned, and now Quicksilver has no women on their board, and no accomplished global marketer. We love how strongly Dolan responded to this completely unprofessional and immature move made by her fellow board members! But we know that this is no kind of victory for women in business. It's just helping to shed light on a huge issue. 

Huffington Post continued the conversation with Dolan and did some digging into the case of women in the boardroom. The numbers and stories they found were seriously disappointing. 

In the boardrooms of companies on the Nasdaq 100 stock index, 8 of them have no women, 37(!) of them have ONLY ONE WOMAN, and none of them have more than 6. None of these boards have any less than 5 men... On average, less than 17% of these companies' board members are women. That is ridiculous, and a recipe for future disaster considering women make up a significant portion of the consumer market. You know, like over two thirds of the consumer market. 

Citing a 2006 study of professional women, Huffpost said that women who were the only female directors or executives at their company claimed that they were repeatedly ignored in meetings, left out of social activities, and excluded “even from some decision-making discussions."

This lack of respect for and acknowledgment of the expertise and knowledge women can bring to decision making table will not only hurt companies in the market. HuffPo suggests that this disregard could also be leading to issues at the management level, citing Twitter as an example. The social media giant reluctantly added just one woman to their board after public backlash a few years ago, but now they are scrambling to find a CEO.

Could this issue have been avoided if their board was more diverse? Could having a 'critical mass' of female board members increased the board's talent pool or improved decision making in the past? We can't say, but it's definitely something to consider.

But companies can't stop there, they must also dig deep and seek to diversify across the race/ethnicity lines as well. 

In a study conducted by Catalyst earlier this year, they found that despite a lot of talk about diversifying, women of color (Black, Latina and Asian) only make up 2.8% of S&P 500 company boards. And a quarter of those women serve on multiple boards!

Surely by looking outside of their default networks, companies will be able to see that there is a large number of highly qualified and talented women of color eager to serve as board members that can help propel their business forward. 

As we scale the ranks in business, let's remember the importance of diversity for the health and performance of our companies. It is our responsibility to reach a hand back to help women of all backgrounds to reach similar or greater heights. It is our responsibility and privilege to change the status quo. 

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