Balancing the Board: Smooch Repovich Rosenberg Of Smooch Unplugged On How To Get More Women On Your Board and Executive Leadership Team

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Rather than prescribe an exacting answer to the challenge, I believe that each company needs to identify a path that suits the needs and personality and culture of their organization. That said, if I were a CHRO, I would expect that the Head of Talent Acquisition would align with one of the many high quality women’s leadership groups, like Chief, as a means to build visibility for their company with key female and diverse leaders. Each company is going to have their own goals and needs, and in today’s market there are numerous and valuable women’s leadership groups that a professional in the talent universe can align with to address advancing women in leadership ranks and on Boards.

Despite ongoing conversations about gender equality, a gap remains in the representation of women in board and executive leadership roles. It’s more than just numbers — it’s about the enriched perspective, creativity, and insight women bring to the table. What are some strategies, initiatives, and real-world practices that have successfully elevated women to board and executive positions? In this interview series, we are talking to C-suite executives who can share their experiences and insights about “How To Get More Women On Your Board and Executive Leadership Team”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Smooch Repovich Rosenberg.

Smooch Repovich Rosenberg, the founder of Smooch Unplugged, is a celebrated executive C-Suite Talent Arbiter with a remarkable track record spanning over 38 years. Known for her unique ability to anticipate and navigate complex corporate challenges, Smooch has a knack for identifying and implementing forward-thinking talent strategies. Her expertise in aligning talent with strategic corporate goals has elevated numerous organizations to new heights in equity valuation and brand recognition.

Her diverse experience, spanning roles in HR and Finance, as a Chief Communications Officer, and as a globally-recognized executive search professional, underpins her reputation as a top-tier consultant. Specializing in the recruitment of Investor Relations Officers and Chief Communications Officers, Smooch has developed a keen eye for not just talent but the right fit for each unique corporate environment. With transparency and trust ingrained in her professional ethos, Smooch brings a distinct perspective to talent recruitment. She measures her success through the achievements of her clients and the career trajectories of the candidates she places. Her approach goes beyond traditional recruitment; it’s about making strategic choices that yield long-term benefits, a philosophy that sets her apart in the executive search domain.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about balancing the board, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Myjourney to where I am today started under the wing of a CEO who saw in me the potential I hadn’t yet realized. He believed steadfastly that I could tackle anything he put in front of me. This kind of trust and confidence was both a challenge and an empowerment. I’ve always been intrigued by intellectual diversity and the thrill of being challenged, and this was a pivotal point in my career. Taking a sharp left turn, I ventured into areas I never imagined I would. It taught me a valuable lesson: leaders won’t push you beyond your limits unless they see capabilities within you that perhaps even you haven’t recognized.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early in my career, I got tapped to head up a mergers and acquisitions team for a global company. Talk about jumping into the deep end! The real kicker came when I had to make this super important call to the global CEO who was supposedly waiting in New York City at his penthouse for my call to come in. So there I was, phone in hand, half expecting to hear laughter on the other end — like it was all a big joke from my boss.

But guess what? The CEO was actually there, on the line, waiting to hear what I had to say. That moment was a serious test of my nerve. I had to trust my gut, step up, and make a call that could change everything. And it paid off. My decision led to a successful acquisition, and it showed both my boss and the CEO that I had the chops for this kind of high-stakes decision-making. It wasn’t just a win for the company; it was a huge boost to my confidence and a real turning point in how I saw my role in making big strategic decisions.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Smooch Unplugged isn’t just another executive search firm; we are a cut above because we bring a practitioner’s perspective to our searches. Our team comprises former professionals from the very roles we now recruit for, which gives us an edge in understanding the nuances and critical success factors of these positions. For instance, we once had a client whose needs were so specific that traditional recruiting methods would never suffice. Our unique approach, combining our deep industry knowledge with our intuitive understanding of people, which led us to find the perfect match. This is what makes us different: our ability to see beyond the resume to the person who can truly make a difference in a role.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Authenticity: My career has been built on a foundation of being true to myself and my clients. I remember once telling a client outright that the direction they were heading in with a hire was wrong, even though it meant redoing all of the work I was doing for them. I’d rather do it right and remain authentic in my recommendations.
  2. Transparency: Linked closely with authenticity, transparency has been key in my relationships with clients and candidates. It’s about being open about challenges and potential issues. This trait has helped me build trust and lasting relationships in the industry.
  3. Passion: The intricacies of dealing with human capital require more than just skill; they require passion. There have been countless instances where my drive and commitment to understanding the unique quirks and needs of both clients and candidates have led to successful placements that others might have overlooked.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

One of the most challenging decisions I faced was laying off a long-time, dedicated employee due to business constraints. It was an emotionally taxing decision, a reminder of the weight of leadership. The process was heart-wrenching, but it taught me the importance of compassion and honesty in leadership, even when making tough decisions.

I am still friends with this person today, and remind myself that I made the right decision for my business and for the employee. The key was transparency with her about why the decision was to be made so that she didn’t feel jilted or taken advantage of. I will always be honest with my people and upfront with them about the decisions I’m making and why I’m making them.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. How do you view the importance of having more women on your board and executive leadership team? Can you describe the value they bring from your own experience?

Having more women on boards and in executive teams? It’s a no-brainer. It’s not just about being fair — it’s smart business. Women bring a whole different perspective to the table that men will never have simply because we take up different places in the world. They have unique ways of tackling problems, thanks to juggling a zillion things in their daily lives. It’s like they’ve got this secret sauce for innovative thinking and getting things done effectively.

In my own world, I’ve seen how women in leadership roles just mix things up in the best possible way. They’re not afraid to challenge the status quo and their fresh perspectives can totally transform how a business operates and thinks. Ignoring the value women bring to the table? That’s just old school — and not in a good way. We’re in a time where embracing diversity, especially in leadership, isn’t just nice — it’s essential for staying ahead of the game.

Reflecting on the last few years, what positive changes have you noticed regarding women in board and executive roles? Conversely, are there areas where progress has been slower or more challenging?

In the 38 years I’ve been working, I have witnessed a positive shift towards more female representation in board and executive roles, especially with legal mandates in some states. However, the change is slower in more traditional and entrenched companies. One of the biggest challenges remains in breaking through the ceiling of conventional backgrounds often sought for board members and showing the immense value that women can bring to a board.

What, in your view, might prevent women from seeking board positions?

Nine times out of 10, women lead the charge in their household. With this comes a balancing act of keeping dozens of balls in the air to ensure the family is cared for appropriately. Work-life balance often comes into play with this juggling act, and along with it, a self-imposed doubt about their suitability for board roles or their ability to commit to yet another thing on their schedule. Overcoming these barriers requires external support structures that may not be possible for all women to tap into.

While focusing on gender diversity, how do you also ensure a broader diversity of thought, background, and experience within leadership? How do these elements intertwine?

Addressing gender diversity is just one facet of creating a truly diverse leadership team. To ensure a broader diversity of thought, background, and experience, it’s essential to adopt a multifaceted approach that goes beyond the conventional “check-the-boxes” of diversity. In my experience, the real value lies in bringing together a team that reflects the varied tapestry of human experiences and perspectives. This means actively seeking out individuals who not only differ in gender and ethnicity but also bring diverse thought processes, educational backgrounds, life experiences, and problem-solving approaches.

First and foremost, it’s about recognizing that diversity of thought is a strategic asset. Teams that comprise people who think differently can challenge each other, spark creativity, and approach problems from various angles, leading to more innovative solutions. For instance, a team that includes members with backgrounds in different industries, from different cultural contexts, or with varied career trajectories can offer insights that a more homogenous group might miss.

In practice, ensuring this broader diversity involves intentional recruiting and talent development strategies. It means looking beyond the traditional pools of candidates and considering people from non-traditional backgrounds or with atypical career paths. It’s about valuing the experiences and perspectives that come from working in different sectors, living in different cultures, or overcoming unique personal challenges.

What are your “Five Things That Should Be Done To Get More Women On Your Board and Executive Leadership Team”?

Rather than prescribe an exacting answer to the challenge, I believe that each company needs to identify a path that suits the needs and personality and culture of their organization. That said, if I were a CHRO, I would expect that the Head of Talent Acquisition would align with one of the many high quality women’s leadership groups, like Chief, as a means to build visibility for their company with key female and diverse leaders. Each company is going to have their own goals and needs, and in today’s market there are numerous and valuable women’s leadership groups that a professional in the talent universe can align with to address advancing women in leadership ranks and on Boards.

In your opinion, what role does corporate culture play in promoting gender equality? Can you explain?

Corporate culture is absolutely crucial in this space. It’s like the fertile ground where seeds of diversity and inclusion can really sprout and thrive. But what we’re talking about here isn’t just a set of rules on a piece of paper. It’s the values that seep through every layer of an organization. In this kind of culture, gender diversity isn’t just a token gesture — it’s a core part of the company’s identity and a big player in its success story.

Now, who sets the stage for this culture? It starts right at the top. Leaders, the big decision-makers, need to do more than just talk the talk. They need to walk the walk. It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, we’re all for gender equality,’ but another to actually make it happen. This means creating a level playing field in hiring, giving women a fair chance at promotions, and really listening to what they have to say.

But here’s the meat of my answer — it’s not just about policies or ticking boxes. It’s about changing the game, shaking up those age-old norms and biases that have hung around way too long. We’re talking about initiatives like training to spotlight unconscious biases, mentorship schemes designed for women, and making sure women are sitting at the decision-making table. It’s about building a workplace where womens insights and contributions are not just welcomed but seen as vital to our collective success and innovation.

With your commitment to achieving gender balance and fostering diversity, what are the thoughts or concerns that keep you awake at night? How do these reflections shape your approach as a leader?

As a leader deeply invested in the dynamics of corporate culture and personnel, I frequently reflect on the pragmatic aspects of achieving gender balance and diversity. It’s crucial to understand that this isn’t merely about meeting set quotas or numbers. True diversity and gender balance involves a deeper comprehension of your organization’s unique character and its situational context. Each company has its own culture, challenges, and opportunities, and the approach to diversity should be tailored to fit these individual aspects. In my experience, the goal should be creating an environment where diversity in all its forms — gender, ethnicity, background, thought — is genuinely valued and leveraged for the collective benefit. This means looking beyond the surface and understanding the diverse needs and potentials of the workforce. It’s about asking the right questions: How can we ensure that all voices are heard and valued? How can our leadership team reflect the diversity of our staff and the communities we serve?

It’s about recognizing that diversity isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’; it’s a business imperative that drives innovation, fosters creativity, and improves decision-making. Diverse teams are known to be more effective, more creative, and have a better understanding of customer needs.

However, achieving this balance isn’t always straightforward. There are industries where gender diversity is still a challenge, and sectors where ethnic diversity is lagging. The journey towards a balanced and inclusive workplace is ongoing and requires constant effort and commitment. As leaders, we need to be proactive in identifying and addressing any barriers to diversity and inclusion within our organizations. This means implementing policies and practices that support diversity at every level — from hiring and training to promotions and leadership development. It also means creating a culture where differences are celebrated, and everyone feels included and empowered to contribute their best work.

In my role, I constantly strive to lead by example, ensuring that my actions and decisions reflect my commitment to diversity and inclusion. This is a responsibility I take seriously, and I believe it is key to the long-term success and sustainability of any organization.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I were to start a movement, it would be something deeply meaningful and impactful. I have this idea of starting a nonprofit, one that’s focused on supporting high school students. My vision for this nonprofit is to work closely with corporations, creating pathways for high schoolers, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, to step into meaningful careers and opportunities. This initiative would be about bridging the gap between talent and opportunity. It’s about recognizing potential in young people who might not have the traditional academic accolades but possess the drive, intelligence, and capability to succeed in various fields. I believe that everyone deserves a chance to shine, and sometimes, all it takes is one opportunity to turn a life around. By guiding these students, providing them with mentorship, training, and access to professional networks, we could open doors that might otherwise remain closed.

It’s more than just helping them find jobs; it’s about empowering them to envision and achieve a future they might have thought was out of reach. This movement would aim to bring the most amount of good to a generation that will shape our future. It’s about investing in human potential, and I can’t think of anything more rewarding or necessary.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I invite you to check out my website or connect with my firm on LinkedIn!

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!