Shirley Chisholm, the first woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968, famously stated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” For the past 50 years, this statement has been a rallying cry for women in political office, businesses, organizations, and now women’s involvement on boards.

While this rallying cry is inspiring, current Utah and US data remind us why Chisholm’s message continues to be relevant, and how much work still remains. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Utah Women and Leadership Project (UWLP), only 28.1% of Utah state boards and commissions seats are held by women. Similarly, according to Deloitte’s most recent Women in the Boardroom report, the percent of women on corporate boards is 16.6%.

In the same 2016 study, UWLP said that, “there are numerous benefits to attracting, retaining, promoting, and empowering women within organizations and entities.” But what are these benefits? Is it really that important?

At the Women’s Leadership Institute, we believe that increasing the number of women on boards actually does boost the bottom line for Utah businesses. Utah has an increasingly large pool of talented and capable women that can greatly enhance organizations and boards if given the chance. We understand that women are necessary and indispensable to any organization, particularly leadership boards.  

“Meaningful discussions are enriched when different viewpoints and perspectives are part of the dialogue,” believes Sophia DiCaro, CCO, of The Cynosure Group. DiCaro also serves on WLI’s advisory board. “I’ve certainly gained more insight by being part of boards with members of diverse backgrounds.”

One of the six initiatives for businesses accepting WLI’s ElevateHER challenge is to increase the number of women on corporate boards and community boards. Often this begins by simply making sure women are included in the candidate pool for advancement and leadership training.

Since 2015, over 170 businesses across the state of Utah have accepted the ElevateHER challenge, a program dedicated to elevating the stature of women in business and board rooms. Businesses that have accepted the challenge are encouraged to focus on how their organization can support and build women leaders in seven areas such as closing the gender pay gap, urging women to run for political office, and increasing the retention rate of women at all levels of the organization.

Women and men across the state of Utah are catching the fire of equal representation in organizations and on boards. If you have interest in joining a volunteer board, the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office is currently seeking applicants for the SLCO Boards and Commissions listed on our website. You can also find this list online.

We’ve all been into conference rooms with fancy leather chairs circling a large, wooden table. When was the last time you saw a metal folding chair squished between some of those fancy leather chairs? That folding chair may not be what we are used to, it may look a little different, and may not be our first choice, but that folding chair might just be exactly what we need.

Like Congresswoman Chisholm encouraged, it’s time for you to bring your folding chair to the board table.