By Carol Cain
News that Chrysler Corp. just named six new board members and all were white men went over like a lead balloon at the Michigan Chronicle’s “Pancakes and Politics” forum.
The “Pancakes” panel comprised of four high profile female leaders who discussed numerous topics including inclusion and diversity, wither Detroit and politics.
The event – the fourth and final one in the spring time breakfast speaker forums — was held Thursday at the DAC.
You can see highlights of “Pancakes” on “Michigan Matters” 11:30 a.m. this Sunday on CBS 62.
The need for more women to be included on corporate boards resonated with the panel.
“He needs to get out more,” said Mary Kramer, publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business when asked what she thought about Sergio Marchionne,Fiat and Chrysler CEO and Chrysler chairman, who announced six new board members, all white men.
Chrysler said it was expanding its board from nine to 13 and named the six new members, which included five Fiat and Chrysler executives.
The men were veterans of the industry but with growing focus on diversity, the “Pancakes” panel sent a few jabs Chrysler’s way.
Other “Pancakes” panelists were: Suzanne Shank, president and CEO, Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC, Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum, and Tanya Allen, president and CEO of Skillman Foundation.
“I’d take a page from (Mitt Romney, former GOP presidential candidate who talked about getting a book together to help him find female candidates for his administration had he won) and I’d would have put together a book for him (Marchionne of qualified female board candidates),” Allen added.
Chrysler, which has two African Americans among its 13 person board, responded after the panel. The company talked of its history of inclusion and focus on diversity and making an impact in the community.
“Chrysler’s commitment to diversity and leadership on diversity related issues is woven into our entire business, including our work force, supply base, marketing efforts, dealer network, and our communities,” Chrysler’s statement read in part. “This commitment is longstanding and is a part of our culture.”
“Encouraging diversity throughout our extended enterprise is not only the right thing to do, but it breeds innovation, mutual respect and openness, and is vital to our sustainability as a company,” it said.
The number tell the story as the percentage of females on corporate boards across Michigan and nation simply lags.
“The percentage of women on boards has increased only 2.5-percent in Michigan in the last decade,” said Barclay. “Eighty-eight percent of those serving on the boards of Michigan-based public companies are men. We can do better, especially given that 60-percent of college graduates are women.”
The panel also addressed the need to have more females in the CEO suite. Mary Barra, first female CEO of a major auto company, was mentioned a few times.
The panel gave kudos to men like former GM CEO Dan Akerson who supported Barra and helped her ascend to the top job. They added the business world has many men who continue to champion women and their careers.
But that is not evident everywhere.
Shank, one of the most influential African Americans on Wall Street, pointed out the disturbing lack of female CEOs on Wall Street.
The Michigan Chronicle, one of the oldest African American newspapers in the nation, launched its lauded “Pancakes and Politics” forum nine years ago to address pressing regional issues. The paper is owned by Real Times Media.
The four “Pancakes” forums this spring have included: Gov. Rick Snyder and other high profile CEOs and leaders from the region and state.
CBS62, WWJ Newsradio 950 and Crain’s Detroit Business have been media sponsors since the forums began. The event was moderated by Carol Cain with Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor Bankole Thompson also posing questions along with the audience.
You can watch highlights of the “Pancakes” conversation on “Michigan Matters” 11:30 a.m. Sunday on CBS 62.
Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer/Host of “Michigan Matters.” She also writes about politics and business for the Sunday Detroit Free Press. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.