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Looking Beyond the Numbers: Women on Public Company Boards
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Looking Beyond the Numbers: Women on Public Company Boards
Publication Date: August 25, 2016

When Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. asked the SEC to require publicly-traded companies to disclose the gender, race, and ethnicity of director candidates, she unveiled a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimating America’s boardrooms will not reach gender parity before the year 2056. According to that report, the number of women holding board seats in the S&P 500 doubled from 8% in 1997 to 16% in 2014, and now sits at just under 20%. While there is no denying that the gender diversity needle is moving more slowly in U.S. boardrooms than in those of the U.K., the numbers don’t always tell the full story.

Nasdaq took a close-up look at the women who are changing both the gender parity equation and the boardroom dynamics of publicly listed companies. While the progress thus far towards achieving parity may seem painfully slow, by shifting the spotlight towards other promising indicators, we can begin to fully appreciate the headway that U.S. companies have made.

We zeroed in on “first-time” women board members to get a clearer picture of the talent pools and pipelines they came from and to highlight their achievements of breaking into the boardroom. The data revealed that many public companies are recruiting beyond the C-suite for qualified female board members.

We also checked the pulse of public company boards after this most recent proxy season and found shining examples of companies making significant progress towards gender parity. More than 100 Nasdaq and NYSE listed companies already have boards composed of 40% or more women members. A number of recent female appointees to those boards were first-time board members, bolstering reports that boards with female CEOs, board chairs, or nominating committee chairs tend to be more gender diverse as women executives pull each other up the rungs of the corporate ladder.

 SEC Chair Mary Jo White recently endorsed an aggressive goal set by the Women’s Forum of New York: that all boards of Fortune 1000 and S&P 500 companies be composed of least 40% female members by 2025. Whether this goal can be met in less than 10 years remains to be seen, but we did identify through our research that many companies are appointing women to boards who bring a wealth of diversity in their backgrounds, professional experiences, skill sets, and by extension their perspectives.

Following is a snapshot of our research, which is based on the public company filings of 4,397 operating companies listed on Nasdaq or NYSE as of June 30, 2016.

  • 5,195 Board seats held by women. Although yearly percentage changes can seem small, focusing on the raw number often provides a better picture of the progress to date.
  • 66 Percentage of female directors that sit on only one board. This is encouraging, because it shows us that companies are actively hiring different women to fill their boardroom, and not recycling the same directors.
  • 81 Women serving on public company board under the age of 40. The majority of these remarkable young women were recruited beyond the C-suite and represent a variety of skill sets and backgrounds, including military service.
  • 366 Companies that have at least 30% female board members. An additional 895 companies have reached the 20% threshold. While not yet at the 50% mark, these companies have begun to put their foot forward in reaching parity.
  • 3 Percent increase in the number of board seats held by women since June 30, 2015. Together with the women who were already serving on company boards, they represent every sector of the economy and a broad cross section of industries.

We also took a closer look behind some of the numbers as they pertained specifically to Nasdaq companies and saw signs of progress, including:

  • 14 Companies that have reached 50-50 gender parity, with boards comprised of 50% or more female members. These companies represent many different sectors of the market and a wide range of market capitalizations. Some have even gone beyond 50% and have a majority of female board members. We should celebrate these boardroom game changers!
  • 75 Women who were elected to a public company board for the first time. Many from outside the C-suite, coming from a variety of professional backgrounds, recruited from non-corporate professional disciplines, such as university administration, government, medicine, public education and journalism. Of these, 29 are the only woman on the board.

By shifting the spotlight from macro-level diversity ratios to promising indicators at the grassroots level—particularly exemplary women and companies—we uncover fundamental shifts taking place in corporate America that bode well for progress towards boardroom parity.

Publication Date*: 8/25/2016 Identification Number: 1248 Mailto Link
material_search_footer*The Publication Date reflects the date of first inclusion in the Reference Library, which was launched on July 31, 2012, or a subsequent update to the material. Material may have been previously available on a different Nasdaq web site.
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