June 20, 2017

Our “Women’s 100” Events: 5 Things I Learned

Recently, we held the 4th Annual “Women’s 100 Conferences” – in both Palo Alto & New York City. I’ve been attending these from the beginning & this year’s continued to live up to the hype! Here are 5 things I learned:

1. How To Know Your Shareholders: If you don’t have a centralized database to track notes from your shareholder engagement meetings (and your shareholders’ voting guidelines) – start one. Some companies have added this element to existing IR software – e.g. Ipreo. Others have a more basic approach. The bottom line is that institutional investors expect you to know where they stand on important issues. And they don’t want to rehash the same issues every year – you should just cover how their concerns have been considered or resolved. Your notes should also include your shareholders’ current contact procedures & preferences, which often change from year to year.

2. How To Know Your Potential Shareholders: We didn’t debate whether “the law of attraction” applies to shareholder engagement – but several people recommended thinking not only about your existing shareholders, but also the type of shareholders you’d like to get. This plays out in governance structures (e.g. single v. dual-class shares), environmental & social initiatives and your outreach efforts. Don’t overlook the communication value of your public disclosures for both existing & potential shareholders.

3. The Art of Using Directors in Off-Season Engagement: Shareholders might ask to meet with a director if there’s been a big strategic or executive pay change – or if there was low support for a company proposal at the annual meeting. They want to understand the board’s decision-making process & how it’s processing shareholder feedback. Directors can be really helpful, particularly if there are messages that are difficult to convey in a written proxy statement. But it’s extremely important to prep them on that shareholder’s policies & concerns – and how they relate to the company & its existing disclosures. Avoid cringe-worthy moments like “we just approved the pay package because the consultant recommended it.”

4. Icebreakers Work: Everyone introduced themselves at the beginning of both events – super helpful for anyone trying to connect with a particular person. On the West Coast, we all described our practice – but almost everyone’s was similar. On the East Coast, we had everyone say a “favorite” – book, movie, band, travel destination, etc. In addition to getting some good recommendations, I learned that this 10 minutes can really set the tone for the day. People were relaxed & jumped in with lots of questions during the panels.

5. We’re Building Community: I’ve always loved these conferences because the format encourages lots of interaction – you can meet heavy-hitters during speed-friending & connect over lunch with peers at the same career stage. So it was especially cool to talk with two women who are now close friends, after meeting at the conference a few years ago. We hope this becomes common!

Sights & Sounds: “Women’s 100 Conference ’17”

This 1-minute video captures the sights & sounds of the “Women’s 100” events that just wrapped up in Palo Alto & NYC:

Liz Dunshee