Women Make Few Inroads on Corporate Boards: Business of LawEllen Rosen
Corporate boards, despite efforts at diversity, remain overwhelmingly male. That’s the finding of a new report by Ernst & Young.
Only 54 percent of companies with seven directors have at least one woman, but 98 percent of those with 12 directors have at least one.
The number of women among new board members increased from 14 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2014. But, the report says, 51 percent of the companies “that increased directorships held by women last year did so by increasing board size.”
The talent pool shouldn’t be a problem, with women occupying more senior-level positions. But women who are lawyers remain a largely untapped group.
The organization DirectWomen hopes to remedy this by training women who are also well-established lawyers. The group, founded in 2007 by Linda Hayman, the head of Uniform Commercial Code and Secured Transactions practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, annually selects a class of “experienced and accomplished women lawyers.” The group attends an institute for board training that also includes meetings with executives, recruiters and past participants.
Bobbie Liebenberg, the chair of DirectWomen, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that two recent studies “showed that lawyers bring value to boards, and in particular that general counsel, are especially well-suited.”
The studies found, she said, that lawyers on boards can enhance value and lead to a reduction in litigation exposure.
Twenty-one women have been chosen to attend DirectWomen’s conference in New York in June. Among the group are Michelle Banks, the general counsel of Gap Inc., Lynn Loacker, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Emily Ward, the deputy general counsel and chief technology counsel of EBay Inc.
Twenty-three percent of those participating in the first five DirectWomen institutes now serve on at least one large corporate board. These include some recognizable names, including Rosemary Berkery, who sits on the board of the Fluor Corp. and is vice chairman of UBS Wealth Management America and chairman of UBS Bank USA; Deborah Platt Majoras, the chief legal officer of Procter & Gamble and former chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, who is on the board of Valero Energy Corp.; and Elisse Walter, the former chairwoman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who is serving on Occidental Petroleum’s board.
These women could go a long way to rebalancing the makeup of public company boards, which, as the E&Y report shows, haven’t made great progress in gender diversity.
While 98 percent of Fortune 100 companies have at least one woman on the board, and 81 percent of companies comprising the S&P 1500, have at least one, the overall numbers are still quite low.
The E&Y report says that only 16 percent of all board seats of the S&P 1,500 are held by women -- “less than the proportion of seats held by directors named John, Robert, James and William.”
But Liebenberg, a partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black RPC in Philadelphia, hopes companies will do more.
“Given the benefits that women bring to a board as well as the benefits that lawyers bring, having women lawyers on a board is win-win,” she said.
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