Hawai’i, which became the 50th state in 1959, was described by Mark Twain as “the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.” The island chain is the most isolated inhabited land mass in the world – 2400 miles from its closest neighbors; it enjoys the advantage of a robust multi-cultural population; it has the highest mountain in the world (Mauna Kea is measured from its base on the ocean floor); it is the only state that grows coffee; and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command based in Hawai’i is America’s oldest and largest combatant command.
Another of many distinctive features of Hawai’i is the strong leadership provided by women during the period of the monarchy through the Kamehameha and Kalākaua dynasties (1795-1893). The queens of Hawai’i including Ka’ahumanu, Kapi’olani, Emma, and Lili’uokalani along with Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the woman who would have been queen except for the takeover of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the United States, made transformative contributions in the fields of law, health and welfare, education, culture and the arts, and philanthropy – contributions whose influence continues to benefit local institutions, including the Bank of Hawai’i founded in 1897.
With a limited number of public companies headquartered in Hawai’i, the Bank takes its responsibility as one of the State’s largest “corporate citizens” very seriously. Through the statewide grant-making of its charitable foundation and the widespread volunteer efforts of its employees and Board members, it has become a mainstay of social and economic progress.
The Bank has worked purposefully to develop a board reflecting diversity on multiple fronts. We created a grid against which we routinely measure our progress in building a board with broad representation of gender, age, ethnic and cultural background, and subject-matter expertise. A rich spectrum of knowledge, insights, and viewpoints is now available to help us prepare for continued demographic change in our workforce mix and consumer base with a view to ensuring future prosperity.
At present, Bank of Hawai’i has 14 board members – two are management directors and 12 are independent directors. Their backgrounds reflect a comprehensive array of experience and relationships – from expertise in finance, banking, energy, health, technology, and media to engagement in public policy, cultural activities, and international affairs. More than one-third of the board is of Native Hawaiian and/or Asian ancestry and there are five women directors, including the Lead Independent Director and the Chair of the Fiduciary and Investment Management Committee.
Recent articles have underscored the importance of numbers. As Sheila Ronning wrote in the American Banker, “It is pretty common for one woman at the table to be the token, where two is a presence, and three is a voice.” Janet Yellen, the first female chair of the Federal Reserve, champions greater representation on the basis of pure practicality. Women bring to the fore perspectives and priorities that are different from those of men. Yellen concludes that “Beyond fairness, the lack of diversity . . . wastes talent.”
Women board members at Bank of Hawai’i host special events for female executives throughout the organization. The aim of the gatherings is to foster communication and contribute to a sense of “solidarity” among the Bank’s wahine (Hawaiian for “women”) as well as to encourage professional development and mentorship. Because one of our female board members is a highly respected composer and musician, we even have a song (mele) that we sing when concluding our sessions. It honors the women of Hawai’i (Hanohano nā wahine Hawai’i) and reminds us of the instructive and powerful provenance we enjoy.
We are always striving to do better (E holomua i ke po’okela) by taking proactive steps to ensure that all women – whether on the staff or the board — are able to make their mark and contribute fully to the reputation and performance of the Bank, benefiting the totality of our stakeholders as a result.