"I think it is admirable and good that the GAO conducts this study, but there is nothing really new in it," said Jan Babiak, executive coach and independent director on several corporate boards. "New executives are chosen by the board members' personal networks. And if birds of a feather flock together, women will most likely not be included on the list."
While countries such as Germany require that some of the biggest public companies fill 30 percent of supervisory seats with women, the Securities and Exchange Commission does not have this type of regulation currently in place.
The GAO did not provide recommendations in its report, but the majority of stakeholders — CEOs, board directors, and public pension fund investors — interviewed supported improving federal disclosure requirements on leadership diversity to encourage greater gender equality on boards.
"Institutional investors driving this push for disclosure is a step in the right direction," said Kate Bensen, president and CEO of The Chicago Network, an organization for professional women in Chicago. "I think that making sure women who are 'board ready' become 'board eligible' is also a way to alleviate the gender gap problem. It is necessary that search firms have women in their pipeline who are ready to fulfill those roles."