Jessica N. Grounds is an internationally recognized thought-leader in women’s leadership and diversity practices. She has founded multiple organizations, companies, and initiatives to address the barriers to diverse leadership in the boardroom and C-Suite, on management teams, and in elected political leadership. She has developed original research to better understand gender and diversity dynamics in the workplace, including a joint effort with Russell 1000 company FTI consulting where she co-authored, #MeToo At Work, Culture At Work, and The Enthusiasm Gap. Jessica led research and content for four reports, published by California Partners Project, about the impact of SB 826, the first-in-the-nation legislation to require women board directors on publicly held companies headquartered in the state of California.
Jessica is the Co-Founder of Mine The Gap, a company that equips leaders, industries, and organizations with the strategy and tools to create and sustain inclusive work environments. Mine The Gap has advised Fortune 500 companies, organizations, and government agencies including: Amazon Web Services, National Geographic Society, Facebook, the Federal Aviation Administration, PG&E, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Center for International Private Enterprise. After basing her work from Washington, DC, for 17 years, she now leads Mine The Gap from her hometown, San Diego, California.
BoardReady: What do you think is the biggest benefit of the California legislation? What are other regulatory models that work well in your opinion?
Jessica Grounds:The California legislature was groundbreaking in its decision to pass SB 826 which requires women be added to corporate boards of California headquartered public companies. The biggest benefit is that the law has worked beautifully. Before SB 826 passed, 29% of public companies headquartered in California had zero women on their boards -- and this was in 2018! And in fact, 53% of microcap companies had zero women directors. Today, we have made significant gains and only 1% of companies have zero women. We have doubled the number of women holding seats on the boards of California's public companies from 15.5% in 2018 to 31.9% as of March of this year. Another huge benefit is that the law has inspired other states to consider similar legislation and has helped positively fuel the conversation nationally about the importance of building diverse company boards -- because adding diversity helps companies to perform better financially, respond to crises, make better decisions, and reflect the customers the companies serve. Lastly, on a personal note, I have worked much of my life to elect more women to political office. It has been a real honor to closely monitor the consequential impact of legislation that grows women in leadership in business that was championed and written by women political leaders.
BR: Tell us a little more about Mine The Gap. What inspired you to found the organization with Kristin Haffert? What is the California Partners Project, how does Mine the Gap partner alongside them?
JG: Kristin Haffert and I started Mine The Gap in 2016 because we felt that the private sector and public institutions needed guidance around challenges related to women in leadership and building more inclusive work environments. Kristin and my background is in political leadership, together we have done work in over 100 countries to advance women in political and business leadership roles. We started Mine The Gap to bridge the latest research with practice and we offer our clients -- who range from Fortune 500 companies, to small businesses, to federal agencies, to international NGOs -- strategic insights to retain and grow diverse leadership and build stronger organizations.California Partners Project (CPP) is an amazing organization, founded by First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Olivia Morgan, to focus on key issues impacting the lives of women and families in California. We have helped lead their work on corporate board diversity and advised CPP on all of their reports about the impact of SB 826. Our research has not only tracked the numbers, but also highlighted the importance of looking at race and gender, as we consider and track the percentage of women of color board directors. Our reports have also helped to highlight the stories and impact of brilliant women corporate directors and how they are changing the face and experience of corporate board service. It has been a real honor to work with such an amazing organization and tell these important stories -- and track this groundbreaking legislation!
BR: What do you think is the most striking part of the latest California Partners Project report?
JG: Our fourth report tells the story of the sweeping impact SB 826 has made in California and on the nation. One of the most powerful data points our research shares is that public companies in California have moved from only 11% of company boards having 3 or more women in 2018 -- to today where nearly 65% of companies have 3 or more women. This will have an incredible impact on how boards function and how they address issues. We know from research that companies having 3 or more women board members see meaningful changes in financial performance. We also know that when underrepresented groups are no longer "token" directors on boards their influence as a group has lasting impact and their presence and perspective is of more consequence. This is a monumental shift when we think about the perspective and experience women directors will add to the boards on which they serve. For example, we know that women directors are more focused on building inclusive workplaces and considering risk differently. The point is that we have long missed out on the talent and expertise women hold, but now California companies and their shareholders across the country will benefit from this previously untapped potential.
BR: How can current board members do their part to help drive change in gender diversity at the board level?
JG: First, the attitude of board members needs to be that there is immense female talent that is board-ready, how do we bring this talent to our board? For far too long, there has been a belief that there is a lack of qualified women to serve as directors. This is simply not true. You can see this from the rapid increase of women added to California boards who had previously never served and are immensely qualified. Board directors and search firms need to look beyond their own networks for talent. Thanks to organizations like Him for Her, theBoardList, Athena Alliance, BoardReady, and more, there are better connections between the ample supply and demand. Next boards need to think about their own culture -- what do they value -- how do they function in a way that will be inclusive and open to new ideas and perspectives. Group think is one of the most damaging phenomenons for boards -- and so bringing in new women directors will bring new insights and mitigate blindspots.