So frustrating: So many years have passed and still, the number and percentage of women on corporate boards remains low, and well below the proportion of women in the workplace. What's the answer?
"If you would have told me 30 years or 40 years that we would still have these pathetic numbers in terms of representation of women on public company boards, I would have said, `there's absolutely no way,'" von Seldeneck said. Her company is one of the largest executive search firms in the U.S.
"The countries that have done a good job with it are the ones that have quotas like Norway and Germany. Quotas is a dirty work in the U.S. We need to figure out a way to call it something different. I really believe, at the end of the day, when it comes to getting more women and diversity on public company boards, it's going to have be a requirement, because nobody is doing it out of the goodness of their heart.
"I always used to think that these young guys coming along that have been brought up with mothers like me and others [would have] embedded in them that there's just no place for [discrimination] anymore. Women are just as capable as men. I thought there would be a different approach. Well, that didn't happen and it's not happening. It's just very strange that it hasn't happened. I'm just amazed by it.
For von Seldeneck, the start of her business and the start of her effort to bring more women in to top executive and board positions started simultaneously when she moved to Philadelphia with her husband after serving 10 years as Walter Mondale's personal secretary.
Question: So, how did you start this company?
Answer: Well, the federal government started it by putting pressure on government contractors that were doing business with the government. Gulf Oil was here. Mobile Oil, Sun, Lockheed Martin, they all had big government contracts. So the government said if you're going to do business with us, you've got to have a better mixture of minorities, as we were referred to back then. So, we started a little business to go call on Lockheed and Sun.
Q: To call on them to do what?
A: To get them to tell us about their professional jobs and to give us a chance to give them women and people of color as candidates, because the office of contract compliance was making a big deal. There were articles in the paper.
Q: Did you know a lot of women that you thought would be good in those jobs?
A: There were a lot of women in not-for-profits that had good skills and that were financial people or marketing people or human resources people. There are a ton of not-for-profits, as you know, around here. They didn't discriminate about women one way or the other.
Q: Plus, they worked cheap.
A: Yeah, exactly. So, we invited a bunch of those women to the Racquet Club, which didn't allow women to be members. But, my husband was a member. So, I made a reservation in his name. I didn't tell him. Sixty women came to the Racquet Club. This started the Forum of Executive Women and this became our database. This is how women began to come together. I mean this is back in the 70s. I mean this was at the start of all these women's movement organizations that were sprouting up all over the country. You had Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. I never thought that was the way to go about it. I didn't think burning bras was a good idea.
Q: And they are expensive.
A: I guess it's my southern upbringing. I thought you want to get the guys to like you. There's nothing wrong with being a woman and being nice and funny. I play golf. I just thought it was sort of the better approach, rather than saying you have to do this, because it's not fair that you're not hiring women and shame on you. That's not my style and it wasn't the style of a lot of women today that are successful.
Q: So what happened?