Few women sit on public companies' boards

Few women sit on public companies' boards

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Peggy Fowler credits former OPB journalist Gwyneth Gamble Booth, communications executive Carolyn Chambers and former PGE chief executive Kay Stepp for being the first women to serve on Oregon boards.
// Photo by Matthew D'Annunzio
Moving onto a board “is frequently about developing relationships with people that are built through experiences being in touch with other executives serving on boards,” says Kay Stepp, a former COO of PGE and one of the first women in Oregon to be invited to serve on a corporate board in the 1990s — a time she describes as a kind of Dark Ages, even if the 21st century doesn’t seem much brighter.

Stepp cites her own experience as an object lesson in how to secure a board seat. After leaving PGE in 1989, she worked with Planar’s founding chief executive as an executive coach, and then was invited to sit on the board. As CEO of PGE, Stepp participated in an American Leadership Forum class with Ron Timpe, CEO of StanCorp. In 1998, she was invited to be a director on that company’s board.

A growing number of women have access to such networking opportunities as they move through the management ranks, says Stepp.

“But it’s an evolutionary process,” she says. In male-dominated sectors such as high tech or manufacturing, many women face another hurdle: insufficient technical or science proficiencies.

“We’re not graduating a lot of female engineers,” Dyess says “If you don’t have any background in the field, the question is what expertise are you going to bring to the board.” As of October, approximately eight women serve as chief executive or chief financial officers on Oregon’s 46 public companies.