Women Break Through as Boards Welcome Non-CEOs

Companies from Nike to Honeywell are adding women directors.

Beth Comstock, a Nike Inc. director, says she picked up ideas in the shoemaker’s boardroom about doing business in India by appealing to that country’s love of cricket. Now she’s taking what she learned back to her day job as General Electric Co.’s marketing chief.

Comstock shows how women are breaking through a path traveled by men for decades in male-dominated boards: They’re increasingly welcomed as directors at corporations such as Honeywell International Inc. and General Dynamics Corp. without having served as a chief executive officer at another company. And like men, they’re getting critical experience out of it.

Adding Value

“It’s interesting to see how another company runs its business and how they face challenges,” Lieblein said. “I can add value, too. I’ve been in manufacturing, I’ve done product development, I’ve run Mexico and Brazil, so I think I bring something to the table.”

CFOs Wanted

The financial meltdown has created a need for expertise on audit committees, a potential boon for women like Travis, 50, with financial jobs on their resumes, according to Lauder. In 2012, 17 percent of new women directors were CFOs, an increase from 1 percent in 2008, Spencer Stuart data show.

‘Guinea Pig’

Comstock, the only executive at GE serving on an outside board, is a self-described “guinea pig” for other managers. Immelt doesn’t serve on any corporate board.

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