B2B Project Aims to Elevate Diversity Conversations, Get Women a Seat at the Table

The B2B Project CEO Jane-Scott Cantus (middle) with Guidehouse CFO and B2B Member Debbie Ricci and Baird Managing Director, B2B Member and Founding Sponsor Jean Stack.

Jane-Scott Cantus (middle) with Debbie Ricci, Guidehouse chief financial officer and B2B member, and Jean Stack, Baird managing director, B2B member and founding sponsor.

The B2B Project recently gathered an exclusive guest list of nearly 80 board leaders and C-suite executives for a discussion on diversity in the boardroom as a competitive advantage.

A nonprofit professional association, The B2B Project aims to foster appointments of highly qualified women onto for-profit, publicly traded boards with the goal of helping both the individual women and the organizations they serve be successful by bringing diversity to the table.

“I think what we were able to achieve (at the Oct. 3 event) was the launching of our national conversation around diversity in the boardroom,” said The B2B Project President and CEO Jane-Scott Cantus. “The conversation needs to examine how diversity of thought, perspective and experience results in optimal governance, not merely oversight. And how true commitment to diversity of thought, perspective and experience can be achieved through actionable implementation plans.”

RW Baird and Project member Jean Stack sponsored the event, which was hosted at the home of Project member and CNSI CEO Todd Stottlemyer. Guests included corporate directors such as board chairs, governance and audit committee chairs, as well as corporate executives in positions to support diversity in their boardrooms.

Diversity as a competitive advantage

Cantus said there is a “flywheel” in which the boardroom, C-suite and other levels of an organization all benefit from and contribute to diversity.

The B2B Project reception with members Beth Robinson, CFO of ALPA, Dawn Sweeney, CEO of National Restaurant Association, Jeanne Tisinger, retired CIA deputy director, and Lorna Donatone, CEO of geographic regions, Sodexo.

The hope is that conversations and actions around diversity as a competitive advantage rather than a statistical mandate will lead to new sets of standards and best practices that not only give highly qualified female candidates opportunities to serve on boards but also propel organizations to success through the contributions of those women.

The B2B Project evolved from a series of conversations with high-ranking operating executive women interested in pursuing appointments to boards of directors. The women involved saw potential board service as an extension of their corporate service. They were fully board-ready and exceptionally experienced and only needed to be on the radar for publicly traded board opportunities, Cantus said.

“We determined two activities that would facilitate getting ‘on the radar’ of governance committees for consideration as directorships: one, actively mine and leverage their networks and two, ensure they have specific points of view about critical issues being faced by boards,” she said.

Director candidates must, at a minimum, have C-suite experience in operating positions, experience at an organization of at least $300 million and preferably upward of $1 billion, and decision-making responsibility for corporate strategy.

Those minimum criteria ensure the women in waiting for board positions will add value to those boards.

The B2B Project members pledge to meet or exceed the expectations of membership, the foremost of which is to champion one another onto boards. Members are asked to share their networks and board opportunity leads and help advocate for one another’s appointments.

The B2B Project Board member and host, Todd Stottlemyer with Baird Managing Director, B2B Member and Founding Sponsor, Jean Stack

The B2B Project board member and host, Todd Stottlemyer, with Baird Managing Director, B2B member and founding sponsor Jean Stack.

Getting involved

The B2B Project also hosts peer-to-peer forums in Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area, educational discussions on issues of the day boards are facing.

“The discussions have included such topics as risk governance versus risk management, the board-chairman-CEO dynamic, the board’s role in culture and board assessments,” Cantus said. “By engaging in these conversations, the members improve their understanding of best practices, test out their opinions and approaches and evolve their own perspectives on optimal governance.”

There are plans to expand the network nationally in 2020. 

Cantus, who founded the B2B Project, credits members, the board of directors and strategic advisers for evolving and promoting the purpose and strategy of the organization to make it successful.

“These individuals — men and women — are strategic leaders in corporate governance and diversity,” she said. “I am enthusiastic about what we have and what we will accomplish together.”

B2B Project leaders are interested in strategic advisers and sponsors for peer-to-peer forums and would also like to meet C-suite-level operating executive candidates interested in membership. Board and governance chairs looking for exceptionally qualified operating executives on their boards are likewise invited to connect.

Lastly, leaders are also seeking sponsors and participants for a national series of forums around diversity in the boardroom. Visit www.theB2Bproject.org or email theb2bproject@ilexleaders.com for more information.

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