Coca-Cola Co. (KO)’s newest director nominee solidifies a trend for the 100-year-old soda maker’s board. It’s getting younger, more female and more racially diverse.
Coca-Cola said today that Care USA Chief Executive Officer Helene Gayle, 57, will stand for election in April. She would be one of three women and three blacks on a board that includes an Hispanic and will have an average age of 66 if she is elected. In 2007, shareholders elected a board made up of 10 men -- one black -- and one woman, with an average age of 68.
“Helene brings a global mindset and a deep understanding of health and humanitarian issues to our Company,” Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent said in a statement. “Her expertise and insight will be invaluable as we continue to expand our global initiatives around sustainability and women.”
Gayle’s nomination comes as U.S. companies continue to make “glacial progress” in efforts to boost female representation in corporate suites and boardrooms, according to a December report by Catalyst, a non-profit researcher based in New York that studies women and business. Women held 14.3 percent of executive positions at Fortune 500 companies as of June 30 and 16.6 percent of board seats.
Gayle spent 20 years with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, working mostly on HIV/AIDS initiatives, Coca-Cola said today in a statement. Care USA, also based in Atlanta, is a global humanitarian non-profit with anti- poverty programs in 84 countries reaching 122 million people.
Coke’s board also will get younger with the retirement in April of two longtime directors, Don Keough, 86, and Jimmy Williams, 79. Keough served two stints as a Coke director, starting in 1981. Williams, a former chairman and chief executive officer of SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI), has served as a director since 1979.
In 2010, Kent pledged to add 5 million women entrepreneurs to its global distribution network by 2020 through business skills training, financial services and mentoring. Kent also leads a Women’s Leadership Council of 17 female executives who identify ways to recruit and retain women senior executives.
Catalyst’s research indicates growth in female corporate leadership has stalled, even with Marissa Mayer’s rise to the top job at Yahoo! Inc. and Sheryl Sandberg’s board-seat victory at Facebook Inc. (FB) Less than a fifth of the Fortune 500 had 25 percent or more board seats filled by women, while more than a quarter had zero women in executive roles, Catalyst data show.
Come April, women will make up 19 percent of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola’s directors. This diversity hasn’t come at the expense of white men. Instead, the board will have expanded from 11 members in 2007 to 16 after the April election. Twelve members will be white men, three more than in 2007.
The expansion also has done little to make the board more international, even though about 80 percent of the company’s profit comes from outside the U.S. Besides Kent, who is of Turkish descent, the board includes a Swede, Jacob Wallenberg.
Coca-Cola Director Alexis Herman, a former U.S. Labor Secretary, joined in October 2007 after leading a Coca-Cola task force from 2001 until 2006 that evaluated pay and promotion practices for minorities. The task force was part of a $192.5 million settlement of a racial-discrimination lawsuit by 2,200 employees.
Maria Elena Lagomasino, who is Hispanic, joined the board more than four years ago while Donald McHenry, who is black, has been a director for 32 years.
Coca-Cola rose 2.1 percent to $38.52 at the close in New York.
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