General George Patton said, "If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking." As today's banks and financial institutions go through disruption after disruption, it is clear that those who run the banks can't afford to be thinking alike or the same as they have done before. Neither can those who govern the banks their boards.
Competition from outside the banking industry and technology developments around the cloud, data security, mobile banking, and social networking are forcing banks to confront what is for many a stark gap in their capabilities set: disruptive thinking. And the best way to get disruptive thinking is to diversify leadership and governance.
So instead of recruiting more former bank CEOs (who have primarily made up boards for decades), today's best bank boards are looking for a far wider swath of expertise. Their areas of interest include cybersecurity, digital and social media, and millennial consumer behavior.
The fact that banks are on the brink of a series of critical, game-changing shifts in their business models (and marketing models, and talent models, etc.) opens the door for women on their boards in a very real and immediate way. This era of rapid change creates a more inclusive embrace of the new. Women, particularly those with skill sets and expertise in areas of emerging importance, are finding greater opportunity to come on board and contribute to the vision of the company that addresses, or even propels, such disruption.
Larger financial firms such as Wells Fargo, KeyCorp, and Morgan Stanley are already recognizing this need, and are bringing women on in governance positions as much as or more than many other sectors, according to Catalyst data. These trailblazing women are well-prepared, well-seasoned experts, but not necessarily CEOs.
At WomenCorporateDirectors, which has a membership of 3,000 female corporate board members in more than 63 chapters around the world, we see a real commitment from global financial institutions to bringing diverse voices to their boards and leadership teams. But among even the larger regional banks and those smaller than that, we still see resistance to opening up boards to more women.
But that also means more need, and more opportunity. So, how can women, especially younger women who are at the top of their games, prepare themselves for director positions? Advisory boards can offer the perfect answer.
Corporate directors and senior executives often do not want to allocate a valuable board seat to someone like the typical digital expert who is often in his or her 20s or 30s and lacks financial, management or regulatory expertise. Instead, they are creating technology or digital advisory boards.
Women who are potential candidates for board service can pursue the advisory board track as a way to connect with key influencers, co-brand themselves with a big company, and gain experience that they can bring to the table as official candidates for a corporate board down the road.
These advisory positions can function as a "proving ground," allowing corporate directors and senior executives an opportunity to observe future board candidates in action and learn how they can contribute to the governance of an organization.
Women with backgrounds at Amazon or Yahoo, or in digital roles at consumer packaged goods companies, along with those who have specific banking expertise, can bring to advisory boards a discrete set of skills that banks are seeking to "import" as they broaden their thinking. Female directors, in their finest incarnation, can provide exactly the kinds of disruptive thinking, and disruptive innovation, that bank boards desperately need.
Stautberg is the co-founder of WomenCorporateDirectors, president of PartnerCom Corp., and co-author of the forthcoming "Women on Board: Insider Secrets to Getting on a Board and Succeeding as a Director."