Mission and History

Our Why

Mission Statement

OnBoard aims to increase the number of women in executive leadership and on corporate boards, driving business and societal value through diversity of thought, experiences, and leadership.

Vision Statement

OnBoard is the foremost strategic partner and recognized leader for empowering women to advance their careers and serve on corporate boards with demonstrated results in for-profit board placements, ongoing research progress, and the cultivation of a committed and engaged community.

Our History

For more than three decades, OnBoard has spearheaded the movement toward gender parity in the corporate boardroom and empowered women to advance their careers. 

In 1993, 37 visionary women and men, led by Margaret “Peggy” LaFreniere had the foresight to make women’s representation in corporate leadership a focus. The group founded the Board of Directors Network (BDN), now known as OnBoard, with the mission of increasing the number of women on corporate boards of both public and private companies. The mission later expanded to include women in executive leadership because those women were in the best position to fill the pipeline of qualified women to serve on boards. 

With the publication of the inaugural Annual Study in 1993, OnBoard became the first organization in the United States to field a study benchmarking the number of women on corporate boards. The Study measures representation of female directors within Georgia’s public companies, using this research as a snapshot of the national corporate landscape. Now in its 32nd year of publication, the Annual Study drives tangible progress by presenting a data-driven case for gender parity in business leadership and informs the programs that make women on boards a reality.

From our founding, OnBoard’s thought leadership informed the national conversation surrounding gender equity in business. OnBoard was a founding member of ION (the InterOrganization Network), a national nonprofit umbrella group which shares our mission of increasing the number of women on for-profit boards and in executive suites. 

In addition to building awareness and encouraging boards to shift how they recruit directors, OnBoard executes a suite of programs to help women at all career stages chart the path to board candidacy. Learn more about our Initiatives, find out how you can get involved, or dive into our detailed history in the timeline below.

Founding and the First Annual Study

Recognizing that the effort to shift gender dynamics in boardrooms would require hard numbers, OnBoard launched the first Annual Study measuring women directors and officers in Georgia public companies. Only ¼ of the 150 companies tracked had even a single woman director. Seats held by women accounted for only 4% of total board seats.

1993

Advocacy Efforts Amplified

OnBoard’s advocacy efforts were significantly amplified by funding that supported the distribution of the study to every public company in Georgia. The Study was quoted in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and The Wall Street Journal. Increase visibility helped grow membership and event attendance, and most importantly, attracted major sponsors, many of whom have supported OnBoard for over a decade.

1999

Well Ahead of Our Time: Reporting on Women of Color in Executive Leadership

Recognizing Women of Color as critically underrepresented in corporate boardrooms, OnBoard began reporting on Georgia board seats held by Women of Color. In the first year measured, Women of Color accounted for about 0.05% of seats in Georgia public companies.

2001

The Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award

OnBoard conceptualized the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award to celebrate outstanding professional women who have attained corporate board service. The Award is conferred annually to a woman who serves on a Georgia for-profit corporate board, or to a Georgia resident who serves on an out-of-state, for-profit company board.

2003

The Advocates List

Launched in 2005 with a dozen charter members, the Advocates List consists of corporate and civic leaders who support OnBoard at a leadership level. Advocates are OnBoard’s highest level of membership who bring their vision and passion to support our mission. Today, the Advocates List consists of more than 300 members.

2005

OnBoard Excellence Awards

Originally launched as the Executive Leadership Honor Roll, the OnBoard Excellence Awards are conferred annually to three Georgia-based women in executive leadership roles. The Awards highlight women serving on corporate boards, or women in the pipeline for future board service.

2007

Gaining Traction

The Annual Study reported that the number of women directors in Georgia had doubled in the 20 years since OnBoard’s founding. The percentage of board seats held by women had risen to 11.5%, and seats held by Women of Color had yet to exceed 2%. Despite significant progress over two decades, the Study’s results illustrated that much work remained to achieve gender parity on boards.

2013

Next OnBoard

OnBoard created Next OnBoard in 2014 to engage motivated early- and mid-career women, thus building a long-term pipeline of women on the path to board service. Today, Next OnBoard boasts a thriving membership of more than 100 ambitious professionals who are learning about board service and building a network of corporate influencers.

2014

Celebrating 30 Years

OnBoard’s 30th Anniversary celebrated our largest membership base to date, and an historic year for women’s representation on Georgia boards. Four companies - Chart Industries, The Coca-Cola Company, First Advantage Corporation, and Intercontinental Exchange, set a new benchmark by reaching parity on their boards. 2022 marked the first year any Georgia public company achieved 50% representation of women directors.

2022

Setting Our Sights on Parity

For the first time ever, women occupied a quarter of the seats at boardroom tables of Georgia public companies. With the movement of gender representation gaining traction, OnBoard established a new strategic plan to enhance our advocacy efforts, invest in our Career Lifecycle Initiatives, and lay the groundwork for achieving parity on corporate boards.

2023

Advisory Board

In fall 2023, OnBoard launched the Advisory Board, a group of women leaders who currently serve or have served on a for-profit board. The Advisory Board provides insight on high-level strategy driving women’s ascension to the boardroom.

2023

Celebrating 30 Years

To commemorate three decades of advancing women’s representation in the boardroom, OnBoard highlighted stories from the visionaries who paved the way for our mission throughout the years. Read about their journeys with OnBoard below.

OnBoard Celebrates Rona Wells, Charter Advocate, Past President and Former Executive Director

President, Wells Holdings

Rona Wells

Rona Wells has served OnBoard as a past president (2003), a charter advocate, and the Executive Director from 2004 – 2020. In honor of her retirement from our board of directors, OnBoard recognizes the impact of Rona’s countless contributions to this organisation. Here Rona shares her perspective as a long-time leader and champion of OnBoard’s mission.

 

Rona Wells is the President of Wells Holdings, which provides angel investments, consulting and fee-based services to companies, entrepreneurs and officers of Fortune 500 companies.  After earning a degree in Engineering from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, Rona began her career working for the Bell System, followed by CNA Insurance. Before her retirement, Rona was a vice-president and corporate officer of Kimberly-Clarke, where she managed $300 million P&Ls, including pulp manufacturing plants and a B2B marketing oriented industrial wiper business. 

 

Of Rona’s background in manufacturing, Charter Advocate Linda Klein says, “Rona was a trailblazer in her career.  An engineer by training, she was the first woman to run a plant for Kimberly Clark.  She was a mentor to many women in her career and is delighted that so many of her mentees have had great success.”  

 

Rona’s board service includes board of advisors for HolaDoctor, a Spanish-language health and wellness digital network; board of Bank of North Georgia when it was a $3.7 billion in assets, individually chartered bank, owned by Synovus; and the nonprofit board of Atlanta Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), among other boards oriented towards entrepreneurs. During her time as OnBoard’s President Rona was one of several organizational leaders who created ION, the InterOrganization Network, to help give member organizations a national presence and share best practices for advocacy.

 

Rona became involved in OnBoard (then BDN) as a volunteer in 2000 after learning about the organization from Martha Ezzard’s AJC article, which highlighted the lack of gender diversity on the board of SunTrust. She describes her alignment with OnBoard as stemming from a desire to help those around her, “Its a passion of mine, seeing women in business succeed, particularly in terms of getting in the c-suite and on boards, so the mission was a natural fit in terms of my interest.” 

 

In her initial volunteer work Rona brought her analytical skills to help produce the Annual Study. The Annual Study is OnBoard’s most compelling tool in advocating for gender equity. This is largely due to its consistency, accuracy and visibility, to which Rona has contributed countless hours of leadership, care and focus. 

 

Since she joined the board of directors in 2001, many of OnBoard’s programs were created under Rona’s leadership. It’s these initiatives, she says, that create tangible impact and lead to greater recognition of OnBoard’s mission. “That’s really what we were focused on, raising the visibility of OnBoard through initiatives and programs, including Get On Board!, OnBoard Accelerator, a matching service for board placement, and  recognizing  achievements through awards such as the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award.”

 

When asked what aspects of her service with OnBoard have been the most meaningful, Rona said “What I’ve enjoyed the most is the collaborative relationships with the people, board and membership, that the mission of OnBoard seems to naturally draw.”

 

Looking toward the future, Rona would like to see at least 60% of Georgia Public Companies have parity on their board by OnBoard’s 40th anniversary. She finds encouragement in recent trends: “I’m excited about the progress that has been made in the last four to five years through the acceleration of women being selected for board service.”

“What I’ve enjoyed the most is the collaborative relationships with the people, board and membership, that the mission of OnBoard seems to naturally draw."

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Rona for her many contributions to our organization! In celebration of her time as a member of OnBoard’s Board of Directors Rona’s close colleagues to shared these words:

 

“For decades, I’ve marvelled at Rona’s ability to drive OnBoard forward through sheer force of personality and capability.” 

— Kelly Gay

 

“Rona’s indefatigable dedication to the OnBoard mission made our success possible.  Rona used her contacts and her strategic planning to assure we had great programs with great attendance.  Knowing that our #1 deliverable is our study, Rona spent years confirming every detail in every study was perfect.  In 30 years there is no one who has given more, tried harder, or was as dedicated to OnBoard as Rona.” 

— Linda Klein

 

“I believe I speak for all of the women executives and board members in Georgia when I express my incredible gratitude for Rona’s commitment to OnBoard and its impact on all of us.” 

— Sarah Ernst

 

“Rona, we are making amazing progress today with OnBoard, Inc. and much of our success started with YOU!  You truly are a special human and have influenced so many careers and lives in positive ways.  Your leadership, stamina and authentic dedication in support of women is applauded and recognized.”

— Cheri Husney

Charter Advocate and Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award Recipient Claire "Yum" Arnold Shares Advice for New Female Board Members

CEO, Leapfrog Services, Inc.

Claire "Yum" Arnold

Yum Arnold, 2004 recipient of the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award, charter Advocate and long-time supporter, shares her perspective as an early for-profit board member.

  

After starting her career at Coca-Cola USA, Yum acquired a small distribution company and in 15 years grew it into one of the top five private companies in Georgia. Then, in 1998, she co-founded Leapfrog Services, where she remains its CEO.

 

Throughout her career, Yum has been an active non-profit board member and supporter, as well as a recipient of countless awards for her contributions, some of which include being named the 2002 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and being inducted into the 2006 YWCA Academy of Women. She was also named the 2014 Most Admired CEO in the Technology Sector, and the 2017 Women Who Mean Business Honoree by The Atlanta Business Chronicle.  

 

Yum’s extensive not-for-profit work spans the arts, education and the environment. She serves on the Board of Trustees of EARTH University Foundation, Spelman College; on the Governing Board of The Woodruff Arts Center; chairs the board of Achieve Atlanta; and is Deputy Chair of The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She is also a past Chair of the Board of The Georgia Conservancy, The Carter Center Board of Councilors and her alma mater, Mary Baldwin College.

 

Yum has served on a total of six NYSE–listed firms. Her entrepreneurial experience, strategic viewpoint and practical business knowledge were the reasons she was named to her first for-profit board position in 1993, and over time, her network helped her gain new seats. During different terms she served as Lead Director as well as Head of Governance, and on Compensation and Audit committees. 

 

Yum’s advice to new female board members is: “Don’t be afraid to speak up, but also make sure that your voice is heard. One of the benefits of having multiple women on a board is they can reinforce each other’s contributions. Before you accept a board role, it is a good idea to interview all the other sitting board members. And make sure the business aligns with something you are passionate about.”

 

Yum continues to make her own education a priority by regularly attending Harvard Business School Intensive courses. She says her early upbringing in Southern Virginia with three brothers and a father who taught her to chart stock prices at a young age gave her a great foundation for a male-dominated business world.

 

When asked what OnBoard’s goals should be for its 40th anniversary, Yum says she would like to see all Georgia boards have at least three women in their board rooms, with a strong recognition of the value they bring to those positions. 

 

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Yum for her contributions to our organization!

"Don’t be afraid to speak up, but also make sure that your voice is heard. One of the benefits of having multiple women on a board is they can reinforce each other’s contributions."

Looking Toward the Future with OnBoard Chair Rachel Perry

Chair

Rachel Perry

OnBoard Chair Rachel Perry shares her perspective on the strong alignment between the organization’s mission and her goals. Rachel is North America Chief Innovation Officer of Aon, where she brings more than 25 years of experience in the commercial risk insurance industry to her role. Her goal is to become an executive on a for-profit board and to passionately support increasing the number of women earning board seats, particularly women of color. Rachel embodies the next chapter of the long-standing support Aon has provided for OnBoard. 

 

“OnBoard has drawn great speakers to share their experiences throughout my more than five-year tenure on our board,” Rachel recalls. “An unforgettable speaker lineup occurred during an Atlanta mayoral election season where three women candidates shared authentic, engaging discussions on one stage. This moment solidified for me that OnBoard’s influence creates compelling conversations that matter.”

 

Rachel outlines the value of participating in OnBoard to include accountability, networking and programmatic resources: accountability to each other, the mission and the Georgia companies tracked in the Annual Study; networking across industries, companies and profession to enhance the learning environment; and programs and events to help members understand the many aspects of serving on for-profit boards.  

 

When asked what OnBoard’s goals should be for its 40th anniversary, Rachel says she would like to see women represent 30–50% of all for-profit boards, with significant growth in women of color.

 

“Ideally, board diversity will become the norm, and OnBoard can continue to evolve to support the next challenge,” she says. “We owe such gratitude to the women who founded OnBoard in 1993 and the charter Advocates who accelerated our progress.”

 

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Rachel for her contributions to our organization!

"Ideally, board diversity will become the norm, and OnBoard can continue to evolve to support the next challenge"

OnBoard's Early Days of Shining a Light on Board Diversity from Charter Advocate Linda Klein

Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC

Linda Klein

Linda Klein, a dedicated volunteer and one of twelve Charter OnBoard Advocates, who was our 2001 president and continues to serve as a long-standing board member, shares some memories from her early years with OnBoard:

In the late 1990’s OnBoard began to engage with the downtown Atlanta business community. At that time, SunTrust Bank (now Truist) was the largest public company without a woman on its board of directors.

Each year, companies lacking women on their boards received a letter from OnBoard (then called Board of Directors Network, or “BDN”), but rarely was any action taken. A breakthrough came when Martha Ezzard wrote an article for the cover of the AJC’s Sunday Business section featuring SunTrust’s all-male board. Ezzard interviewed shareholders attending the company’s annual meeting and many expressed concern about the board’s lack of diversity. Phones rang around town as board chairs worried the spotlight could be turned on them next. 

SunTrust soon named a woman from Nashville to its board: Patricia C. Frist, who served on the bank’s board until 2010. This was a watershed moment for OnBoard, both in its progress toward fulfilling its mission and the attention drawn to the issue thanks to the AJC article.

The year 2001 was another milestone year for OnBoard, as it marked the first-ever program focusing on Women of Color in corporate leadership. This event sold out quickly and featured four African American women who were true trailblazers in their own careers: Alexis Scott as moderator and Johnnetta Cole, Joia Johnson and Glenda Hachett.

When asked about her dedication and commitment to OnBoard, Linda replied “I am so proud that OnBoard has made a difference in making Georgia companies more inclusive.  This benefits everyone.”

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Linda for her dedication and ongoing contributions to our organization and its empowering mission.

“I am so proud that OnBoard has made a difference in making Georgia companies more inclusive.  This benefits everyone.”

Celebrating Steps Forward with Past President and Charter Advocate Elizabeth Noe

Chair of the Board, Agnes Scott college

Elizabeth Noe

Elizabeth Noe, OnBoard’s president in 2005 and 2006, board member and one of the twelve Charter OnBoard Advocates, shares her perspective on the journey of Board of Directors Network (BDN) and OnBoard. Elizabeth has a long history of working with organizations focused on developing women, such as the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, the International Women’s Forum and of course, BDN. Retired from a legal career that often included working with clients in the boardroom, she now has the freedom to serve on boards and currently serves as chair of the board for Agnes Scott College and is on the board at LXP Industrial Trust (NYSE: LXP).

During Elizabeth’s presidency, the BDN board was seeking ways to enhance the organization’s impact and generate additional revenue. As part of these efforts, Elizabeth presided over the rollout of the Advocates List program, designed to enable BDN members to show more vocal and financial support for the mission. BDN also brought its director search offering to market, providing assistance to local companies with their board searches to supplement the work of search firms and other informal efforts.

“During this time, it felt like we were moving the numbers at a glacial pace, if at all,” Elizabeth recalls. “One of our conscious decisions was to celebrate and praise the companies that were doing well with board gender diversity – companies like Coca-Cola, UPS and Georgia Pacific –  as opposed to taking a more adversarial stance.” This was also when BDN joined the national consortium – ION – to share ideas on how to further the mission.

Elizabeth says she deeply valued the programs that BDN delivered, as well as being able to learn from the experiences of others and build her network. She believes some of the most important skills for the board room are “taking the obligation seriously, having the soft skills to get along and the substantive skills to add to the conversation, and maybe most importantly, the skills to effectively deal with conflict.”

Looking forward, Elizabeth says she would like to see OnBoard continue its focus on the C-suite, one of the primary pipelines of board candidates, and bring along new members. One additional approach would be to “shine a light” on the industries that have not made as much progress with boardroom diversity and have the most opportunities to grow.

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Elizabeth for her contributions to our organization and its empowering mission!

“One of our conscious decisions was to celebrate and praise the companies that were doing well with board gender diversity – companies like Coca-Cola, UPS and Georgia Pacific –  as opposed to taking a more adversarial stance.”

Former OnBoard President Jackie Parker Reflects on Getting Things Moving

Senior VP of Talent Management and Chief Diversity Officer, Global Payments Inc.

Jackie Parker

Jackie Parker, OnBoard’s president in 2014 and 2015, shares her perspective on the key initiatives that were launched during her term. 


After starting her career in sales and marketing, Jackie moved into a series of high-profile corporate roles championing diversity and supporting not-for-profit initiatives. She has served on many local and global non-for-profit boards and has worked on corporate foundations. Today, she is the Senior Vice President of Talent Management and Chief Diversity Officer for Global Payments, Inc. Jackie’s love of strategic work and her governance background has served OnBoard and many other organizations incredibly well.


During Jackie’s presidency at OnBoard, the board launched two very innovative initiatives. First was a new aligned organization, Next OnBoard. There was a real need to support the segment of high-potential women early in their careers with specific programming and networking opportunities. The OnBoard board advised a talented team of young women which did the work to build out the charter and launch the organization. Today, Next OnBoard boasts a robust leadership team and program calendar and remains tightly aligned with OnBoard.  


“The Get On Board! program was created and launched as the number of women being named to boards was continuing to feel stuck,” Jackie recalls. “This was among the early events designed to introduce CEOs and board decision-makers to the ‘board-ready’ women of OnBoard. It was a ‘hot ticket’ when launched and continues to be a highly sought-after invitation.”


Jackie says she deeply valued the passion and commitment of the OnBoard board, and greatly appreciated the men who were serving on the board, as well. 


Looking forward for the next 10 years, she says she would like to see OnBoard continue to refine its diversity metrics around for-profit boards and develop a self-assessment on its membership. 


We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Jackie for her contributions to our organization and its empowering mission!

“[Get On Board!] was among the early events designed to introduce CEOs and board decision-makers to the ‘board-ready’ women of OnBoard. It was a ‘hot ticket’ when launched and continues to be a highly sought-after invitation.”

Treasurer and Charter Advocate Stefanie Paulos on Recognizing Women Trailblazers

Assistant VP, Retired

Stefanie Paulos

A dedicated board officer (Treasurer) and advocate of OnBoard since 2004, shares her perspective on the journey of Board of Directors Network (BDN) and OnBoard.

“One of the hallmarks of the organization was recognizing the very accomplished women, true trailblazers, at the annual awards event. These women have made their mark in business and have supported many others along the way. Carol Tomé, the 2009 recipient of the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award, is one great example.”

When asked about the value OnBoard brings, Stefanie lists “the great educational programs delivered by board members that share their experiences about getting named to a board as well as real life as a sitting board member.” She adds that expanding networks into new organizations, professions and industries is another advantage.

Looking forward, Stefanie says she would like to see OnBoard attain more visibility and be recognized more broadly among C-level executives and board members in the Georgia business community – and the Southeast – as the essential source and thought leader regarding women on boards and in executive leadership.

We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Stefanie for her dedication and ongoing contributions to our organization and its empowering mission!

"Moving from Board of Directors Network to OnBoard Inc. really crystallized the mission and became the platform for communications and broader awareness in the business community. ‘Inspire, Advocate and Connect’ has been the driving strategy and message."

The Ongoing Need for Education from Annual Study Researcher Mary Madden

Annual Study Research Volunteer

Mary Madden

Long time OnBoard volunteer, advocate and integral member of the Annual Study team, Mary Madden, shares her perspective as an early for-profit board member.  


In 1980, Mary was named to her first board position with Information America Inc., and in 1994, she was able to have a second woman named to that board. This was just the beginning of her work to help women earn board seats. Mary was later named to the SYNAVANT Inc. board, served as Chairman and Executive Director of the Atlanta office of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), and in 2005, co-founded the Atlanta Chapter of Women Corporate Directors. As a speaker and advisor, Mary offered insight when there were few women to do so. 


During her terms of board service, Mary says the hardest part of her role was “learning how to get to the root cause of the problem we were working on –– how to get the whole story and required insights, without offending the leaders,” as well as finding a way to motivate people to take an active role in the work at hand. She says the best part was getting to know so many interesting people. Over her 40-year career and as a three-time runner up in Inc’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, she blazed many trails.   


While Mary has since retired from her corporate and entrepreneurial ventures, as well as her not-for-profit board roles, she remains passionate about the value that OnBoard continues to provide our members: expanding their network and programmatically delivering insights on the actions needed to gain a board seat. 


We at OnBoard are incredibly grateful to Mary for her contributions to our organization!

 

"Parity in the board room, . . . will require ongoing educational efforts to current board members and executives on the well-documented value that women bring to for-profit boards."

30th Anniversary Partners