Get Ready, Board Rooms: Meet 20 Female Execs Primed for a Seat at the Table

9:00 AM 12/6/2018

by Rebecca Sun and Natalie Jarvey

A new law mandating all public California companies have at least one female board member is creating big demand for worthy female execs, so The Hollywood Reporter vetted the under-the-radar corporate stars who can take the plunge.

Courtesy of Everett Collection; Getty Images

By now, few people would argue (at least publicly) against putting more women on corporate boards, whether the impetus is shareholder pressure, studies that cite higher earnings for companies with gender-inclusive leadership or, now, a legal mandate. In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 826, which requires any publicly traded corporation based in the state to have at least one woman on its board of directors by the end of 2019. That means nearly 100 firms that currently don't — about a quarter of the state's public corporations — have a year to find a female director, or face a $100,000 fine (no media companies on the 2020 Women on Boards' Gender Diversity Index are in danger of violation). By the time the law is fully implemented in 2021, women should occupy 400 to 500 seats statewide.

But the demand outnumbers the female chairmen and CEOs with whom board searches typically begin — and end. Only 5.1 percent (151 companies) of firms on the Russell 3000 stock index have female CEOs, while just 24 women lead an S&P 500 corporation. "All those women are boarded up," says Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, CEO of executive search firm Berkhemer Clayton and nonprofit 2020 Women on Boards, who testified in Sacramento six times this year on behalf of SB 826's passage.

Media and entertainment, dominant sectors in the state, contribute their share of active and former chiefs to the board pool, but there are only so many Bonnie Hammers, Sherry Lansings and Debra Lees, each of whom sits or has sat on multiple boards. Adding to the challenge of finding top female executives for boards are the policies of several large public companies, including Disney, Apple and Google, that prevent employees from serving as a director for an outside public company. (It's worth noting that Hollywood's only current female studio chairman, Universal Pictures' Donna Langley, has never served on an outside corporate board, though NBCUniversal does not bar its employees from doing so.)

At the rate women are being promoted to the top of the org chart, studies extrapolate that it will take at least 40 years to reach nationwide gender parity in the boardroom. And in the meantime, companies are missing out on the chance to take advantage of fresh — and, in some cases, literally younger — perspectives that can help them anticipate technological trends and conceive of more nimble strategies. "Why are we not looking at the woman who might be in the C-suite in the future?" asks ELY Capital's Hope Taitz, an active advocate for women on boards. "What are boards doing about innovation? I sat on a hotel board — five years ago, they wouldn't have thought about how Airbnb was going to disrupt the business."

Recruiters say that forward-looking companies are now considering board candidates with strengths in digital marketing and understanding consumers, opening up the playing field for CMOs, CTOs, entrepreneurs and human resource chiefs. "What caused a pretty dramatic shift was the rise of desire to have digital DNA or transformational DNA," says Jana Rich, whose Rich Talent Group specializes in placing women on boards. Adds Julie Daum, who leads the North American board practice at executive search firm Spencer Stuart, "Because the average age on boards is pretty high, those directors worked in a different world, so these are skill sets that are really needed."

So while a new class of in-demand directors has emerged, female executives, unlike many of their male counterparts, tend to be more measured in making a decision to serve on a board, especially when weighing the time commitment against existing obligations in a culture in which women are still expected to shoulder the brunt of family responsibilities. Most public companies have mandatory board sessions every quarter, which can sometimes last for up to two days, including social activities and committee meetings. Capitol Music Group COO Michelle Jubelirer says she has recently been approached with board opportunities that she ultimately felt weren't the right fit. "Women are more discriminating about what they say yes to," she notes, adding, "but they don't get asked enough to get that opportunity."

Without the benefit of a chairman or CEO title, experts say, women can chart a path to the boardroom by first serving on the board of a large nonprofit or a trade association, or burnishing their financial and tech bona fides by getting involved with a private equity or venture capital fund. This generates not only board experience but also, crucially, relationships that can help penetrate the inner circle of boardrooms, where newly open seats are still invariably offered to cronies. "A lot of boards are the products of familiarity — new members being asked after serving on other boards with extant members," says ICM Partners board member and literary agent Jennifer Joel, a former Goldman Sachs banker. Adds Berkhemer-Credaire: "Men are lined up, six guys deep, behind every board seat. They play golf together, they're on university boards together."

Not that existing directors necessarily need to be replaced. "It may be necessary for boards to increase the number of seats in order to create diversity, rather than wait for seats to become available." says TriStar chief Hannah Minghella. Indeed, SB 826 allows firms to add seats to reach compliance. Firms may seek to do that anyway: "There are shareholders who will vote against a company if they don't see a diverse slate," says Taitz. "My fear is, are they just going to go back to the same 50 women? We have to get [new] women the skills, get them into the room with the people who make things happen, and break apart the mold."

These 20 female leaders already have deep business experience, plus the marketing, digital or lifestyle backgrounds that boardrooms often lack.

  • Sarah Barnett

    President, AMC Entertainment Networks

    Courtesy of BBC America

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT A November promotion gives the former BBC America head a higher profile and more operational experience, key for a programming-focused executive.

    PERFECT FOR Creative-minded companies

  • Cathy Beaudoin

    Special advisor, General Atlantic

    Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT The former Amazon Fashion president became a hot commodity when she departed in May. Now Beaudoin, also a former Gap executive who oversaw its Piperlime shoe brand, has added crucial investment know-how to her résumé.

    PERFECT FOR Explaining e-commerce to a consumer goods business

  • Leslie Berland

    CMO and head of people, Twitter

    Mathew Scott

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT The former American Express marketer not only led Twitter's image about-face but also now oversees the public company's HR. Make a Wish and Ad Council seats primed her for a corporate position.

    PERFECT FOR A network out of touch with its viewers

  • Kelly Campbell

    CMO, Hulu

    Courtesy of Hulu

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT The Google Cloud alum has received several board offers since she joined Hulu's C-suite in 2017, but she is holding out for the right fit. Past investment-banking jobs signal coveted financial experience.

    PERFECT FOR A legacy firm moving to a direct-to-consumer business

  • Tina Daniels

    Agency business development director, Google

    Desiree Navarro/WireImage

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Running ad sales has given her consumer insights and exposure to major marketers. She's completed a Harvard Business program preparing women for director seats.

    PERFECT FOR A high-growth company undergoing digital transformation

  • Thasunda Duckett

    CEO, Chase Consumer Banking

    Bloomberg via Getty Images

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Any board lacking a director with a strong financial background should look to her. Duckett not only leads a banking network of $648 billion in investments and deposits, she also is expanding Chase's retail operations.

    PERFECT FOR An audit committee

  • Channing Dungey

    Former president, ABC Entertainment

    Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Women In Film

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT A Disney policy prohibiting execs from outside corporate board seats kept this 15-year TV veteran from past directorships, but recruiters are ready to pounce now that she is a free agent.

    PERFECT FOR A consumer brand reinventing itself as a content company

  • Sahar Elhabashi

    VP content, Spotify

    Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT If content chief Dawn Ostroff is unavailable, companies should consider Elhabashi, a former consultant who was Ostroff's operational right-hand at Conde Nast Entertainment and who served as interim CEO of the entertainment-focused unit before joining her at the music streamer.

    PERFECT FOR Any company still lacking a digital strategy

  • Deirdre Findlay

    CMO, Stitch Fix

    Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Google Home

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT In demand due to her past roles at Google, where she launched Google Home globally, and eBay, Findlay moved into the CMO role when she joined StitchFix in June. 

    PERFECT FOR A content company considering a move into commerce


  • Desiree Gruber

    CEO, Full Picture

    ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT The consultancy founder's mix of brand savvy and communications know-how makes her an out-of-the-box choice. UNICEF and Tech:NYC involvement indicate the Project Runway producer is ready for the next step.

    PERFECT FOR A new-media startup

  • Sarah Harden

    CEO, Hello Sunshine

    Courtesy of Otter Media

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT With extensive board experience through her former Otter Media portfolio, the head of Reese Witherspoon's media company and former News Corp. Asia group director has yet to take an outside role.

    PERFECT FOR A corporation seeking transpacific expansion

  • Michelle Jubelirer

    COO, Capitol Music Group

    Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Capitol Music Group

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT With deep operational experience, the former lawyer has already attracted interest from private companies. Her résumé also includes the national board of Planned Parenthood.

    PERFECT FOR Navigating change in the face of technological innovation

  • Moj Mahdara

    CEO, Beautycon

    Hussein Katz

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT No one knows what young people want like Mahdara does; her Beautycon events draw tens of thousands who spend an average $300 on site. The Outdoor Voices and Harry's razors investor also has direct-to-consumer business know-how.

    PERFECT FOR Explaining Gen Z to a board full of baby boomers

  • Alyssa Mastromonaco

    Former president of global communications strategy, A+E Networks

    Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for Girlboss

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Her composure handling natural disasters and tragedies for President Obama will be valuable in a boardroom, especially when mixed with the business know-how she gained as COO at Vice Media and as an executive at A+E Networks. Boards seats at and the Kennedy Center have also primed her for a corporate role.

    PERFECT FOR A studio weathering a #MeToo crisis

  • Hannah Minghella

    President, TriStar Pictures

    Courtesy of Austin Hargrave

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Studio heads have professional backgrounds that often differ from that of typical board candidates, but Minghella is equipping herself for the role, including by serving on the Women in Film board.

    PERFECT FOR A media company in need of an impressive Rolodex

  • Jessica Neal

    Chief Talent Officer, Netflix

    Courtesy of subject

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Neal saw Netflix through its transformation from DVD purveyor to streaming giant, so she knows what it takes to grow a company. She also spent time at mobile gaming startup Scopely. Plus, boards prize members with human resources expertise.

    PERFECT FOR A compensation committee at a scaling business

  • Dao Nguyen

    Publisher, BuzzFeed

    John Phillips/Getty Images for Advertising Week

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Having worked in online media for two decades at such outlets as Le Monde Interactif and BuzzFeed, Nguyen understands the unique challenges of building digital businesses in the age of Facebook and Google — something every content company grapples with today.

    PERFECT FOR A digital video business

  • Dawn Olmstead

    President, UCP and Wilshire Studios

    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    CATEGORY Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT Some boards might overlook a development exec, but Olmstead also has rare entrepreneurial bona fides as co-founder of startup Face Haus. Plus, the former producer can juggle many constituents' needs.

    PERFECT FOR A women's brand looking for Hollywood connections

  • Anjali Sud

    CEO, Vimeo

    Courtesy of Vimeo

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT The onetime Amazon director vaulted into board consideration when she was named CEO of Vimeo after three years as a senior executive. Her youthfulness and digital focus are what many firms lack.

    PERFECT FOR A fresh perspective on distribution channels

  • Emily Weiss

    Founder & CEO, Glossier

    AP Images

    CATEGORY Non-Entertainment Executive

    WHY SHE DESERVES A SEAT As the leader of the next generation of beauty brands, she knows how to connect with consumers through storytelling. The self-taught CEO, who turned website Into the Gloss into a popular cosmetics retailer with over $85 million in funding, also has the business chops to raise $86 million in funding.

    PERFECT FOR A lifestyle business that has lost its cool

    A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.