“Women need to feel confident that they weren’t asked to join a board to just check a box…you’re not going to get the invite unless you are indeed qualified…tip #1 is to believe that.” – Dawn Zier
Dawn Zier is best known for engineering a remarkable turnaround of Nutrisystem during her six-year tenure as its CEO. Named one of Fortune’s 100 Fastest-Growing Companies in 2017 and 2018 under her leadership, Nutrisystem was acquired by Tivity Health in March of 2019. Prior to joining Nutrisystem, Dawn had held several executive roles, including President of International and President of Global Consumer Marketing, at Reader’s Digest Association, a $1.4 billion global data marketing and media company.
Dawn has served on multiple boards throughout her career and is currently a board member of Prestige Consumer Healthcare; The Hain Celestial Group, where she chairs the Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee and serves on the Audit Committee; and Spirit Airlines, where she chairs the Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee and serves on the Compensation Committee.
I recently sat down with Dawn to learn more about her career and her experience as a member of multiple boards.
Angela Chan: Why don’t women come to the table more often?
Dawn Zier: Growing up, I was taught to make decisions by writing down a list of pros and cons on a yellow pad of paper and weighing each one carefully. It was a thoughtful process. I believe opportunities often pass women by because, as a group, we tend to be self-critical and overthink our readiness for an opportunity. We labor over the pros and cons and by the time we finally decide we’re ready, the opportunity often has passed us by. I find that men more easily just jump into an opportunity and figure it out as they go. We have to get better at that.
Zier: First, be a hand-raiser. Don’t wait to be asked and don’t overanalyze an opportunity – go for it.
Second, leave your gender at the door and play in the whole sandbox. Yes, it can be helpful to attend some women-only events, but also be sure to attend the big events. You don’t want to be known as the best female leader in the room. Drop the adjective.
Third, support other women.
Chan: There are some women who make it to the boardroom but don’t speak up when they get there. What are three tips for changing that?
Zier: There is plenty of data showing that diversity matters and that diverse leadership teams and diverse boardrooms drive better results. Women need to feel confident that they weren’t asked to join a board just to check a box. Sure, being a qualified woman does give you an edge at this particular point in time, but you’re not going to get the invite unless you are indeed qualified. So, tip #1 is to believe that.
Tip #2 is that the chairman or lead director should create a board culture where comments are acknowledged and not glossed over. We’ve all been in situations where we say something and then the conversation moves on, without any acknowledgment of the comment, only to have the same comment repeated and embraced a moment later by a stronger or more animated voice. I don’t view this as a gender-specific issue, but I do know that people shut down if they feel like they aren’t being heard. As board members, we should be on the lookout for this type of behavior and redirect credit where it’s due.
Tip #3 is that shareholders are asking boards to provide more oversight with regard to culture, human capital and ESG in addition to historical board and committee responsibilities. In my experience, and I hate to generalize, women on boards have a lot of passion for these topics and the skills to address them. I encourage new female board members to step up and take the lead here. It will help you exert yourself and amplify your voice, and your board will thank you.
Chan: What’s the best advice you ever received while rising in your career?
Zier: “Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.” When I look back at the times when I’ve had the most professional growth, it was when I was asked to take on a role that I wasn’t quite comfortable with or wasn’t sure I even wanted. When I was at Reader’s Digest, I was asked to move from an operating role where I had complete P&L responsibility to a CMO role that was a staff function across a matrixed organization. My CEO told me it would develop my softer leadership skills in addition to the ones I already had. At the time, I wasn’t thrilled about this move, but in hindsight, it was the best move of my career. It set the stage for me to become a successful CEO and board member where the power of influence is so very important.