Closing The Gap

At the current rate, corporate boards won't hit gender parity until 2032, new report warns

Closing the board seat gender gap
Closing the board seat gender gap

Amid headlines about women losing ground in the workplace throughout the pandemic, Equilar is releasing new data on women's progress towards equity on corporate boards. Equilar's new Gender Diversity Index, just released today, finds that 23.5% of all board seats on the Russell 3000, which tracks the performance of the 3,000 largest public U.S. companies, are held by women, as of the fourth quarter of 2020. That's up from 21.5% in the fourth quarter of 2019, from 18.5% at the end of 2018, and from 15% at the end of 2016.

But while the percentage continues to inch up, 6% of those Russell 3000 boards have no women on them at all, and on the other side of the spectrum, only 8% of boards are at least 40% female. Only 71 companies have boards that are at least half female — just 2.4% of the total. That adds up to a mind-bending fact: there are more than twice as many companies that have no women on their board, as there are companies with half-female boards.

The issue: women were appointed to 39% of all new director seats in 2020, down from 44% the prior year. Equilar warns that at the current rate, boards won't hit gender parity until 2032; that's two years later than what the firm projected a year ago.

Other studies show the rate of change for racial diversity on boards also slowing: Spencer Stuart reports that the percentage of new directors in the S&P 500 that were racial and ethnic minorities was 22% last year, down from 23% the prior year. 

Equilar points to other trends that could indicate corporate wariness to look for a wider range of board candidates. In the fourth quarter more director appointments were men serving on their first board, 52.4%, compared to 49% of women. Women are more likely to serve on multiple boards — 25% of women are on multiple boards, compared to less than 17% of men — indicating that companies are going back to the same group of women, rather than dramatically expanding the aperture of what type of women or experience they might be looking for.

But there are signs of a movement to closing gender gaps accelerating. Equilar reports that in the fourth quarter, 44% of all new board seats were filled by women, an acceleration from the full-year average. And in January, 22 women were added to S&P 500 boards, according to a Bloomberg report, the biggest increase in almost two years. This year there have been some notable CEO appointments from underrepresented groups. Roz Brewer and Thasunda Brown Duckett, both Black women, were both appointed as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Duckett was just appointed to become CEO of TIAA on May 1, a role she'll take after serving as CEO of the Chase Consumer Banking division of JP Morgan. Roz Brewer is the new CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

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