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'Silver lining' to coronavirus crisis: 80% of board members say they're more informed than ever

Melody Hahm
West Coast Correspondent
LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA - Former Airbnb COO Belinda Johnson joined PayPal's board of directors in January 2017. theBoardlist, a marketplace that connects female executives and open board seats, helped facilitate her appointment.

As business leaders navigate the coronavirus pandemic, they are having to juggle keeping a company afloat, thinking about future runway, and managing personnel and morale. Often seen as honorific positions during rosy times, boards of directors are vital sources of support during moments of crisis.

According to a new survey from theBoardlist, a marketplace that connects female executives with open board positions, 80% reported more frequent communications now than prior to the crisis. 

“We are hopeful if there is any silver lining it is that boards are more informed now about how to make it through a crisis and will be better able to implement more risk mitigation and planning moving forward,” said theBoardlist CEO Shannon Gordon.

Half of board members said their biggest role right now is providing external perspective and information to companies. When asked about the primary concern for their brands, cash management, business continuity, and long-term business impact were the top issues. Three-fourths of board members surveyed think it will take six months or longer for companies to recover from the current crisis, and 37% of companies have already had to lay off or furlough employees.

TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot gestures during an interview with Reuters in San Francisco, California, U.S., September 13, 2018. She's now on HP's board. Picture taken September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The survey was conducted online of current board members the week of April 13 and had 100 respondents. Seventy-five percent of board members believe it will take six months or more for companies to recover from the current conditions. Additionally, 37% of the companies the women sit on the boards of directors for have already experienced layoffs or furloughs. 

Since launching four years ago, theBoardlist has influenced 100 private and public company board placements, including former Airbnb COO Belinda Johnson joining PayPal’s (PYPL) board, former Amazon (AMZN) executive Michelle Wilson joining Pinterest’s (PINS), and TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot joining HP’s (HP).

The importance of female board members

Female board members possess a key trait during intense volatility and uncertainty — the ability to provide emotional support, according to Gordon.

“We found that only 19% of boards think that providing emotional support for the CEO is a key responsibility for the board. In fact, it's critical. CEOs have been required to make very fast decisions under incredible stress. Their ability to think clearly and get the support they need is critical to be able to provide support for the employees, customers, and other stakeholders,” she said.

“The board is well-positioned to provide them the emotional support they need to do their jobs well. The empathy that requires is often a female leadership trait and desperately needed in the boardroom right now,” she added.

Compensation for board members, who have both advisory and oversight responsibilities, straddles a wide spectrum. According to Gordon, compensation might be only in equity for private companies. For large public companies, compensation can be as high as $200,000 per year. And some like Delta Airlines (DAL) have boards that are foregoing compensation during this time.

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s west coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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