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Women Make Historic Progress Toward Gender Balance on Corporate Boards

2020 Women on Boards (2020WOB), the preeminent education and research campaign tracking the progress of women on corporate boards in the U.S. over the last ten years, released its annual 2019 Gender Diversity Index (GDI) today. The report details how women corporate directors now hold the historic milestone of 20.4% board seats nationally for the first time.

According to data on the 3000 largest U.S. companies provided by Equilar and analyzed by 2020WOB, 600 women were selected for corporate boards in the first six months of this year. However, 311 companies still have NO women on their boards.

Nearly two-thirds of corporate boards of all Russell 3000 companies changed their board composition between July 2018 and June 2019, and the majority of boards that added women corporate directors actually increased the total number of directors in order to add these women. Gains for women corporate directors accelerated in 2019, and the number of companies with 20% or more women increased by nearly 10% since last year.

“This growth in gender-diverse boards is unprecedented,” remarked Stephanie Sonnabend, co-founder of 2020 Women on Boards. “We interpret this to mean that our educational and advocacy programs are having an extremely positive effect on corporate boards and their succession planning.  Thousands of women are learning through our programs how to navigate their own careers toward corporate boards, and it’s working.” Today’s 2019 GDI report also tracks the representation of women directors by company size, state, and industry sector.

Key insights include:

Women now hold 20.4% of the board seats of R3000 companies, an increase from 17.7% in 2018.

The percentage of women in the 100 largest companies is 27.7%; in the 1,000 smallest companies it is 15.7%.

Fifty-two percent of R3000 companies are “Winning ‘W’” companies, with 20% or more of their board seats held by women, up from 43% in 2018.

The number of “Zero ‘Z’” companies decreased by 25% from 497 to 311 companies. Despite these improvements, 41% of R3000 companies still have one or no women on their boards.

Seventeen of the 26 states with at least 20 companies exceed the 20% goal in 2019, up from four states in 2018 and one state in 2017.

Women now hold more than 20% of the board seats in five of nine industrial sectors, up from two in 2018. The percentage of women-held board seats improved across all sectors.

From 2018 to 2019, women gained 811 board seats (net) while men lost 358 board seats (net). Sixty-four percent of companies that added women did so by increasing the size of the board.

The 2020WOB campaign was founded by Stephanie Sonnabend and Malli Gero as a means of encouraging boards to bring men and women together to solve the increasingly complicated governance challenges facing directors in the global economy.

Gero reflected on 2020WOB’s success in advocating for a national minimum of 20% women corporate directors: “Reaching this milestone affirms the campaign’s mission and our strategy to make a significant change. Tens of thousands of people across the globe have worked with us to accelerate the progress women are making in boardrooms. Our collective voices are being heard.”

The campaign was started in 2010 and many companies tried to ignore the issue. That is no longer the case today as more companies realize they need diversity in the boardroom. Good corporate decision-making requires the ability to hear and consider different points of view coming from people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. More diversity on corporate boards leads to better shareholder returns, diversity of thought—which results in better decision making—and competitive advantage.

On November 21, 2019, the National Conversation on Board Diversity, an annual gathering attended globally by 10,000 men and women to discuss strategies for getting more women on boards will be staged in more than 30 cities by 2020WOB. To learn more and join the event, see the full list of participating cities.



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