Medidata's chief human resources officer on bringing women into company boards and the importance of a good mentor relationship

Right now Medidata is one of the companies taking part in the 2020 Women on Boards initiative to try to improve the representation we have in our own board. The aim is to have 20% of our board be women by 2020. We already have hundreds of potential candidates.

It is really compelling to see that so many women and men want to start bringing more women into board and executive roles. It is a wonderful sign that there is so much momentum in the industry and this has brokered a lot of interesting conversations for us – it is important to be able to have these conversations in practical ways. Even though things like the #metoo campaign have opened up dialogue for negative reasons, it has opened up a lot of positive conversation around how we can create more momentum.

During our board search, our CEO Tarek Sherif said that he had tried to help a female colleague get on a board and it made him realise how challenging it can be for women in this position when they do not have board experience, let alone the diversity challenge. That was a big driver for him, and in our own search we are actually being very open minded to candidates who have never had board experience before. We have put together a training strategy that will set them up for success.

It has been one of the best initiatives I have been able to drive because there are so many folks that are excited about it and it really moves the needle. It is incremental moves like this that will continue to be a catalyst for improved diversity outcomes.
I have often been the only female on a male team, which I think is pretty common for women executives. It has been a bit of a change at Medidata because we have a female chief technology officer and many other women in senior leadership roles. In the technology sector, I did not always get great access to female role models, and in situations like that, you often have to blaze your own trail! But luckily I am seeing a lot more of it now, including in the entrepreneurial space where female CEOs are becoming increasingly common, which is encouraging.

Mentoring and coaching continue to be best practice. I am currently mentoring several different women across different industries.
To have a good mentor relationship, you have to have a contract at the beginning around what you are expecting to get from the relationship. You need to know what you want the mentor for and how much time you will need. You have to be honest and build trust; you can do that by going out for dinner with the person, for example. You have to dedicate time as mentorship is a big commitment. It pays off and can be a wonderful experience, but you do have to have that contract, that mutual trust and a beginning and end measurement of the outcomes you want to get from the relationship.

It’s important to encourage women to ask for what they should be asking for. Often women will ask me, “I’ve taken on this bigger job and they have asked me to take on more responsibilities, should I ask for a raise?”, and my answer is that you should always ask for a raise, because the worst they can say is “No”. But it’s a big deal for women to do that – it is still a journey for us to feel that we can advocate for what is fair and proper compensation.