A New Initiative to Develop Women’s Leadership at the Board Level

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The George Washington University School of Business and the International Women's Forum have announced the inaugural class of fellows for On the Board, an initiative designed to prepare, promote and place women on corporate boards.

Wells Fargo's Caryl Athanasiu, No. 9 on American Banker's list of the 25 Women to Watch, and Barclays Capital's Barbara Byrne, No. 6 on our list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance, were among the women selected to the program, which will feature GWSB faculty as well as other academics from around the world and sitting corporate directors, to facilitate with leadership development and networking.

Why all the effort? Well consider this. According to On the Board, the first female appointed to the board of a major U.S. company was Letitia Whitehead, who became a director at Coca-Cola in 1934. (Marjorie Merriweather Post was on a board 20 years earlier, but that's because she inherited the Post Cereal Co. after her father's death.) Since Whitehead's time, the number of women on corporate boards has increased by an average of just 16 per year. And the gains seem to have stalled out this past decade, with the percentage of women on corporate boards stuck at about 16 percent for Fortune 500 companies, and a barely better 17.5 percent for the Fortune 1000.

"Taking those numbers into account, it immediately becomes clear why On the Board will be truly revolutionary," said Deedee Corradini, IWF President. "When we place all 15 fellows on corporate boards, we will nearly double the advances made yearly for the last 81 years. This is monumental progress."

Athanasiu is chief operational risk officer at Wells. Byrne is vice chairman of the investment banking division at Barclays. At three multi-day sessions over the course of 2013, they and the other fellows will go to Washington for training in board-level approaches to strategy, risk, compliance, crisis management and communications, with a special focus on skills to enhance their competitive for serving on board-level audit and compensation committees.

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