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Percentage Of Women In Boardrooms Nears Milestone, But Has A Long Way To Go

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/11/2015 Emily Peck
ATHENA IMAGE © McMillan Digital Art via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

This is, alas, progress: Women currently hold nearly 19 percent of board seats on the Fortune 1000 companies tracked by a nonprofit advocacy group called 2020 Women on Boards, up 1 percentage point from 2014.

That means the nation’s largest corporations are closing in on the group’s modest goal: that all U.S. companies have a board of directors with at least 20 percent women by the year 2020. The group estimates they'll exceed that goal. As a reminder, since some people like to list females as a minority, women make up about half of the world’s population. At this rate they'll get to 50/50 in the year 2046.

“This is something that moves very slowly,” Malli Gero, 2020’s president and co-founder, told The Huffington Post. She noted that since the group’s founding in 2011, the percentage of women on boards has climbed a full percentage point every year.

“That may not sound like a lot to you, but a decade earlier, zero progress was being made," she said.

Women hold 18.8 percent of the board seats at the 842 companies tracked, up from 17.7 percent last year and 14.6 percent in 2011. The index tracks gender representation on the 2010 Fortune 1000 list. It no longer analyzes 1,000 companies since some have fallen off the list over the years.

It’s not OK to have zero gender diversity. Malli Gero, president and co-founder of 2020 Women on Boards

Seventy-five of the companies tracked have no women on their board -- including Kodak, makeup company Coty and shoe company Skechers. You can search through a database of about 2,000 public and private companies on the nonprofit’s website here

“It’s not OK to have zero gender diversity,” said Gero, who noted that her group focuses on creating change within those companies.

Typically, it’s the smaller and younger companies -- those at the bottom of Fortune’s rankings -- that struggle the most to diversify.

After Facebook went public in 2012 with no women on its board of directors, Gero’s group sprang into action. In a blog post and interviews they called attention to the oversight and asked Mark Zuckerberg to at least appoint Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to the board. The news was widely covered.

Facebook shareholders also spoke up. ”We are disappointed that the Facebook board will not have any women members,” wrote Anne Sheehan, a shareholder and director of corporate governance for a California pension fund for the state's teachers, in a letter to Zuckerberg. "This is particularly glaring in view of the fact that Facebook is going public at a time when there is clear evidence that companies with diverse boards perform far better than the companies with  more homogenous boards."

Ultimately, Zuckerberg appointed Sandberg. Eventually they put another woman on the Facebook board. Now two of eight directors are women, meeting 2020s goal of 20 percent.

Some shareholders are increasingly pushing for board diversity, giving more weight to advocacy groups such as 2020. Urban Outfitters' CEO initially resisted calls from shareholders to diversify its board -- before ultimately capitulating and putting up two. (One was the CEO's wife.) Rival Abercrombie & Fitch put four women on its board last year after activist investors started making noise about the issue.

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