As more companies engage in D&I programs, more women are joining the board. In December, 50/50 Women on Boards, a leading nonprofit education and advocacy campaign that promotes gender balance and diversity on boards, reported that women hold 26.7% of the seats on the board of directors of the Russell 3000 company. However, at the current rate of change, women are not expected to hold 50% of board seats until 2030. Organizations like The Fourth Floor are a driving force in making this prediction a reality.
Breen Sullivan, founder of The Fourth Floor and Forbes Next 1000 and co-founder Kat de Haen help women understand how board governance works and how to secure a seat at the table. They are driving systemic change by bringing women onto startup boards and cap tables so they can initiate and grow their board careers and business portfolios. investment while fueling funding for women-led startups.
Since launching the organization in 2019, the founders have grown their platform to over 1,400 active members with 5,000 people within the community. They have also grown their list of sponsors and partners including Diligent, Kirkland & Ellis, Lean In and Crunchbase. Recently, they soft launched the Pay It Forward initiative. Their goal is to have 75,000 women on for-profit boards by the end of 2025.
“It’s women helping women,” says Sullivan. “We give women opportunities by bringing them onto the boards of female-led startups, but you’re talking about a pretty small ecosystem if you focus only on female-led startups and then on the candidates who arrive and access this finite, relatively small pool of opportunity. And yet, how do we drive systemic change? How do we really make a difference when it comes to foreign demographics and the bigger picture in the United States? United ?
She continues to share, “What we’ve realized is that we can mirror the value creation circle that we’ve built in The Fourth Floor, and it’s very effective for women helping women. We can to reflect and replicate that on a much larger scale that can widen the flywheel of what we do to appeal to all businesses, whether public, private, founded by men, who, of course, make up the vast majority of companies. And we can work together to reach that goal of seventy-five thousand.”
It sometimes takes more than three years to obtain a seat on the board of directors. Therefore, the strategy should be seen as a long-term process. Many people start as advisory board members or in a nonprofit organization. The Pay It Forward initiative helps shorten the process.
The Initiative enables all companies, large or small, led by men or women, to tap into the organization’s ecosystem to diversify their boards and leadership teams. Each partner who joins the program must offer or advertise a board opportunity and at least two female executives in their company who meet the membership criteria – a win-win for everyone. In addition, each partner must commit to recommending the program to its portfolio companies. Plus, Pay It Forward partners earn a checked joint.
Already, Sullivan and de Haen have secured eight higher-impact partners, including Corporate Counsel Business Journal, The Innovation Space and Stella Labs. Through recommendations from partners who have already signed up, they estimate that 470 Pay It Forward partner companies would initiate and advance at least 1,410 board careers for women.
The idea for the fourth floor grew out of Sullivan and Haen’s frustration with their careers and experiences. They were introduced to each other through a mutual friend. Sullivan told de Haen about his idea of creating a community of founders, board candidates and investors; a place where women can network and fill gaps in their practices.
In addition to the Initiative, they have also launched the Board Seat Exchange. Startups list their board seat opportunities on the platform and members can apply. Currently, there are 300 startups listing about 700 opportunities.
“It’s this realization that so many women entrepreneurs, part of the reason they come out of the door a little behind the curve is because they don’t have a deep bench of advisors. from day one,” Sullivan said. “So realizing that female founders were particularly vulnerable to not having the right access to resources and support to effectively build and operate these boards was the first idea that led to the creation of this marketplace. exchange of board seats. We knew that was something the founders had to tap into, and they would benefit from it.”
As Sullivan and de Haen continue to expand the organization and expose board opportunities for women, they are focusing on the following critical steps:
- Go big. Start with the most impactful idea you have, then break it down into small, manageable steps. Each step will bring you closer to achieving the dream.
- Focus on what matters. Block out white noise and work on the tasks that will get you where you want to go; stop wasting time on things that don’t advance your idea.
- Be adaptable. Success is not a linear line; it zigzags. There are many ways to achieve your goal.
“Seventy-five thousand is a big number,” Breen concludes. “That’s an exaggerated number. But it’s a number that, given the studies that currently exist, which frankly, there hasn’t been a lot of analysis of the demographics surrounding private boards, numbers are pretty grim when it comes to diversity on these So if we could have 75,000 women somewhere on these boards in this private corporate demographic, that would cause a statistically significant shift in diversity metrics.