Women on Boards: Tokenism or Best Practice?

If a company adds three eminently qualified women to their board, and it is characterized as a gender play or way to avoid a firestorm of criticism, is that progress? Why do we assume that these women were chosen simply to avoid the negative press that Facebook and Twitter received when they went public for not having any women on their boards?

Don't get me wrong -- when the public challenges the lack of gender diversity in the boardroom, it does incite large public companies to recognize women as both their shareholders and their customers. Public companies need to wake up and add qualified women to upper management and on their boards. If this means they need to offer women's development and board preparatory programs to their mid- and senior-level women employees toward building a pipeline of strong candidates, that's great, and there are many programs out there to achieve this (Watermark certainly offers a few).

There is also a plethora of research showing greater shareholder value, higher sales and stronger decision-making and governance with more diverse leadership teams and boards. Social pressure is driving greater board diversity in larger companies, and if anything, we need to increase the volume and frequency of public promotion of more women on boards.

But let's not assume that the women selected for these board seats are getting there so that these companies can avoid public criticism -- that only undermines their qualifications. Let's applaud Zendesk for casting a wide net to find candidates that were the best for the role and add diversity in support of company growth. Let's reinforce the research and bust the myth that there aren't any -- or very few -- women ready and able to add great value to boards. And most importantly, let's not demean this as tokenism or avoidance, but acknowledge it as a best business practice to drive business results.