Barracuda’s Diane Honda on building stronger companies through diversity

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How can you build a better corporate board that will help make your organization more successful? Diversity is key.

Each year, DirectWomen, an  organization focused on promoting women lawyers for service on corporate boards, selects a group of distinguished lawyers to participate in the Board Institute, which will be held in New York City in October. We’re pleased to announce that Diane Honda, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, General Counsel and Secretary for Barracuda has been selected as one of 18 women from across the U.S. to be a member of the 2019 DirectWomen Board Institute class.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with Diane to discuss the Board Institute, the importance of diversity on corporate boards, and the changing role of women in technology. 

Congratulations to Barracuda's Diane Honda on being named to the 2019 @DirectWomen Board Institute class Click To Tweet

Diane Honda

Q&A with Barracuda's Diane Honda

Why do you want to participate in the Board Institute?

There’s a belief, and it has been shown to correlate, that the skills that you need to be a successful attorney, translate incredibly well to serving on boards and adding tremendous value. The Board Institute helps take those skills and hone them. I’ve been serving on a public school board four of the past five years, and I’ve served on several nonprofit boards. As the next opportunity to further my career, I plan to serve on the boards of technology companies, with a focus on educational technology where my prior experiences and passion will make a positive impact.

What do you think will be most valuable about the experience?

First of all, I think it will be incredibly helpful to understand how to use the skills I have but also augment and transform them in a way that would serve the companies and board members on future boards very well.  It’s also a great opportunity for me to meet and learn from accomplished women who are serving on public boards or large private boards and to understand the path they took and what they found worked and didn’t work. There’s a very distinguished staff of professors and board recruiters that will help each of us work through what the right type of board is for us given our skill set and where we can add the most value.

What’s the next step between now and the Board Institute in the fall?

Between now and the Institute, there’s a series of webinars that we’re attending that are focused on helping us prepare a board profile and biography, and to analyze the process a board goes through to select new members. The focus is to help identify the key skills and expertise we have and to be able to very effectively present that to a board nominating committee that is looking for someone with those abilities. Once we get to the institute, there are programs to educate us on the key issues facing boards and evolving trends in shareholder relations and corporate governance.

There’s a lot of motivation for companies to diversify boards, and it is coming both legislatively and from shareholders that believe in the benefits of having diverse boards. Companies look to organizations such as  DirectWomen for potential candidates.

'To be successful for the shareholders, a board and its members should also understand how the company is treating its employees, how it’s managing its social and legal responsibilities, and its overall  financial policies and performance.'Click To Tweet

How do you feel your experience has prepared you for this next step?

I’ve been in a lot of board meetings, and I’ve seen great value-add board members that really understand their role in advising and guiding the company, and supporting the CEO and leadership team. Boards should focus on  governance and strategies to maximize the outcome for the shareholders. To be successful for the shareholders, a board and its members should also understand how the company is treating its employees, how it’s managing its social and legal responsibilities, and its overall  financial policies and performance.

For example, I currently serve on the governing board of a K-8 public school district. We don’t try to run the school district. We help the district succeed in its mission to educate our children and to meet its financial obligations by establishing responsible board policies that the district staff can operate within. This provides the necessary oversight without inhibiting the district’s ability to execute day to day. 

What do you think is important about getting more female representation onto boards?

Whether it’s on a board or otherwise, there have been numerous studies that show that diversity of all types adds strength to the organization because it brings different perspectives and experiences. Boards that have women members have been shown to perform better financially, be more attuned to the social responsibility of the company, and are better able to manage risk.

'Boards that have women members have been shown to perform better financially, be more attuned to the social responsibility of the company, and are better able to manage risk.'Click To Tweet

Diversifying boards has been a challenge because a majority of board seats get filled through referrals from other members who are male and have similar backgrounds. There is also an ongoing misconception that to be an effective board member, you need to come from a CEO and CFO role. While many CEOs and CFOs make excellent board members, other roles can also make  highly effective board members. Having a HR, compliance, marketing, or operations background can also bring tremendous value to a board.

Because boards members instinctively refer people they know and are predisposed toward only certain jobs, this has limited the number of women and minorities greatly on boards. Legislative action, such as California’s Senate Bill 826, has been put into place to help change that. SB-826 is a new law that states that public companies headquartered in California need to have a certain number of women on their boards by 2021. For example, a board with five members total will have to include two women on the board. If they don’t, the company will face a financial fine, as well as public and shareholder scrutiny.   

Large shareholder-based groups, such as BlackRock Capital and the NY Pension fund, have reached out  to companies to understand why they do not have women or minorities on their board and in effect are putting them on notice. If we want companies to run well, if we want the shareholders to have a greater voice, if we want long-term financial success, then we ought to be looking at diverse boards.

Over the course of your career in technology, what changes have you observed in the role women play in the field?

My undergraduate degree is in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, and I started my career as a software engineer. At the time, I was the only woman on a team of software developers building a massive software project. There was one other woman on the QA team, but that was it. Now dial forward, years later, there are a lot of women engineers and more women that are coming out of schools each year with technical degrees. I think that’s a tremendous step forward. The benefit is that if there are more women engineers, then there are more women to elevate up through the ranks into management to serve as role models for others. I think that this trend will continue and further expand and change the role women play in the technology sector.

What advice do you have for women who are starting to build their career in the technology field?

The technology field has tremendous opportunities for women, for everybody, but for women in particular. Women are creative and collaborative, very focused on accomplishing things, and able to multi-task. For example, these skills fit well within a technology company when you’re trying to bring a complex solution to market that will add value to your customers. So, women should continue to push toward technology careers. I also think women should understand that like anyone else, you may start your career as a software engineer and then migrate into a different role in a technology company. Your technical background will serve you well in whatever position you choose and create tremendous opportunities for you.

Looking for somewhere to grow your tech career? Check out the opportunities available at Barracuda

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