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Kehli Harding Woodruff

Business leadership to boardroom impact

Determined to make her mark in the boardroom with her passion and expertise, Kehli Harding Woodruff joined Yale SOM’s Women on Boards program.

While the presence of Black women in S&P 500 board positions is rising, they occupy a mere 4% of seats.1  As a Black woman and dynamic leader in communications, business development, and strategic planning, Kehli Harding Woodruff intimately understands the crucial need for better representation—so companies can reach the next generation of consumers and diverse constituencies.

With an impressive track record that includes leading eight business start-ups to success and expansion, Kehli is dedicated to connecting organizations with clients, customers, and community members from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Determined to make her mark in the boardroom with her passion and expertise, she joined Yale SOM’s Women on Boards (WOB) program in June 2023.

Now seated on the board of her alma mater, Brown University, Kehli actively applies the knowledge and techniques she gained in WOB to serve as an effective board member.

Kehli raising her hand while seated in the classroom.

Why did you choose to attend WOB?

When I decided to pursue for-profit, corporate, venture capital, and private equity Boards of Directors, Yale SOM’s Women on Boards (WOB) program was a clear choice to help me achieve my goal. I chose to attend the program because of Yale’s excellent reputation for academic excellence, as well as the opportunity to connect with like-minded women to assist each other in achieving our goals. WOB has very strong leadership and transformational stewards in the industry that we could learn from and collaborate with in our pursuit of boards. These factors made the program an excellent choice.

What were some of your key takeaways from the program?

The program was full of key takeaways. My top two are: to choose a board of directors that is very closely aligned with our goals and values, and that networking is key to obtaining a board seat. Most board opportunities will come through our own personal networks, and WOB provided tips and tools to guide us on how to connect with our contacts and gain exposure to connectors to potential board seats.

The great value in Women on Boards is the ability to network with business and industry leaders, and to be part of a cohort of like-minded women who are all pursuing board director positions together.

Kehli standing with her Women on Boards peers.

What role did networking play in your program experience?

Networking was central to the WOB experience. It was wonderful to meet and spend a week with like-minded women who have the intention to secure board seats. I learned useful insights from my classmates, formally and informally, and as a result, I feel more prepared and confident to pursue board seats. Now I have a network of powerful women from my WOB cohort that will last a lifetime.

How would you describe WOB and its value to someone considering it?

I have had many friends inquire about my experience in the program, and I have conveyed that the great value in WOB is the ability to network with business and industry leaders, and to be part of a cohort of like-minded women who are all pursuing board director positions together. Additionally, the information and strategies that we learned over the course of the program were invaluable in assisting us in achieving our professional goals. I highly recommend the program to anyone considering pursuing board positions.

Kehli talking to Women on Boards peer during closing dinner ceremony.

What advice do you have for the next cohort of participants who are looking to make the most out of their program experience?

I would advise the next cohort of WOB participants to fully immerse themselves in the experience of the program. This includes taking a break from work or keeping it to a minimum, and planning to have personal and family obligations met by other people in your ecosystem so that you can focus on the program. Further, coming with the expectation of having a transformational experience, setting your intentions on your goal of securing a board seat, and being fully present for the experience will all enhance your takeaways from the program.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your program experience?

As a Black woman, I felt particularly delighted to be a part of the program. There are very few Black women on boards, with the current numbers running around 4% of all board members. I embrace my role as a representative of my community and welcome the opportunity to serve as an honor and privilege. As such, I look forward to sitting on a board of directors, fully bringing my expertise in optimal communication with diverse stakeholders and shareholders, business start-ups, myriad skill sets, and my identity as a Black woman.

2023 cohort of Women on Boards