According to the 2020 Women on Boards campaign, which is working to increase female representation on U.S. company boards to 20% or more by 2020, women provide boards with a diversity of thought, stakeholder representation, a competitive advantage and essential skills.
That’s not news to us at Scripps Health. Women in leadership is our heritage. We were founded by Ellen Browning Scripps and Mother Mary Michael Cummings many years ago.
As CEO, I also serve as a board member, and have since I joined Scripps some 20 years ago. Only a few women had served on the board during our history, and we’d never had a woman chair.
Improving our board’s diversity was important to me and to the board. We started by focusing on increasing the number of women board members. Beyond the obvious leadership qualifications and expertise women bring to governance, they represent the majority of Scripps’ 15,000-person workforce and they are the primary healthcare decisionmakers for their families. Theirs are voices we needed to hear.
We try to have a balance on our board of a third community representation, a third business representatives and a third from mission-oriented organizations.
When I became CEO, we were strong on the business side for board representation and wanted to expand in the other areas. One of the first people we recruited was the dean of nursing at the University of San Diego. We targeted her because nursing is such a significant part of what we do and a large part of our workforce. She ultimately became the first woman chair in the history of Scripps Health.
And over time, the Governance and Nominating Committee of the board has recruited a number of women.
Women board members—like men—are recruited for their subject matter expertise that contributes to the board’s collaborative knowledge and for their commitment to community service and Scripps’ values and mission. We look for their fit in working as a team, so we’ll have mutually respectful, collaborative board members. That adds to the strength of the board and their ability to be a high-functioning governance body.
Today, six of our 16 board members are women. Five of the nine committee chairs are women. The current board chair is a woman. In fact, all but one woman on the board has served as chair and the past three chairs have been women.
Our women board members include or have included a labor law attorney and partner in an international law firm; a prominent former lobbyist; the head of a key government agency and community leader; a nationally known healthcare fraud attorney; several nuns who have represented the interests of our Catholic hospital; a retired Scripps psychologist who designed our employee assistance program; and our current chair, a retired FBI agent who took part in several high-profile investigations and is also a cancer survivor treated at Scripps. She brings us the patient perspective, as well.
All our board members serve on a pro bono basis. They have busy lives outside of their service to Scripps, and we are so grateful that they give so much of their time to the work of the board.
Our board members—women and men—are very collegial. They ask phenomenal questions, are engaged, have constructive discussions and are willing to challenge when necessary. But we don’t see a lot of divided votes because they work to find consensus on serving the best interests of the community.
We’ve found board diversity to be important for the different perspectives and experiences it brings in shaping our organization’s direction. We’ve had such robust representation of women board members for so long at Scripps, that on a day-to-day basis, I don’t even think about the members of our board as men or women. I just think of them as very strong, capable leaders. And maybe that’s the way it should be.