Boards Need Women

Over the last few decades, women have made great strides toward gender equality in many arenas -- but not on corporate boards.

A recent article in The Atlantic, penned by a researcher from GovernanceMetrics International, has shone a fresh spotlight on this long-standing problem. Women hold only 12% of board seats at major U.S. companies. In a pool of 4,000 of the world's largest corporate entities, 40% lacked even one woman on their boards. Of those 4,000 companies, just one lonely company boasted a board with a female majority.

The Atlantic focused on 23 companies that have exactly zero women on their boards. Here's a sample of the more surprising examples:

  • IAC Interactive (Nasdaq: IACI  ) , parent of Match.com, made the list. Perhaps somebody should match it up with some female directors.
  • Baltimore, Md.'s Under Armour (NYSE: UA  ) recently cheered about its efforts to add more female athletes to its customer base, even predicting that one day, women's apparel will overshadow its male apparel business. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite translated that business interest into a similar interest in including women on its board.
  • Skechers (NYSE: SKX  ) has made big money from female consumers through female-focused trends like its Shape-Ups line, but it hasn't shaped up its boardroom with a dose of gender diversity.
  • Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX  ) has admitted that its kids and women's markets are the strongest part of its business. Apparently, strengthening its board by appointing female directors simply wasn't part of that agenda.
  • One of my personal favorite stocks, Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) , has no women on its board, despite its major female clientele. Heck, almost three-quarters of major retail companies have at least one female director. Get with the program, dudes.
  • Diamonds may be a gal's best friend, but diamond jewelry purveyor Zale (NYSE: ZLC  ) is not, at least with regard to the folks in its boardroom.

Underutilized assets
As the Atlantic piece points out, the progress women have made in many other areas makes this discrepancy even stranger. Girls have been outdoing boys in school, earning higher grade point averages in high school, and outpacing male counterparts in gaining college degrees by a ratio of 3:2.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's 2009 statistics, women comprise 46.8% of the workforce, by no means a minority figure. The data showed that a not-insignificant 40% of employed women worked in management, professional, and related occupations; that was also the largest percentage concentration in the careers tracked.

Although some women may get lost on their way to the top for a variety of factors, like time off for child-rearing, many women doubtlessly remain overlooked as good candidates for promotions (and ultimately, board seats). Among other explanations for the gender gap, groups generally appoint folks just like them to serve, and most boards -- and their networks -- consist primarily of men.

Many companies clearly lag behind the times -- and given the studies suggesting that women executives yield real performance, they may be missing out. The nonprofit Women Corporate Directors organization last year pointed out that females exhibited a more positive outlook on better corporate governance and risk management policies. To ensure more effective corporate boards, many companies might consider the importance of including more women.

Celebrate differences
Collections of people who think differently often make better decisions than homogenous groups who all think alike. Fuller female participation on boards would provide a much-needed depth of perception and experience that many companies clearly lack. Let's hope The Atlantic can draw much-needed attention to this glaring deficit in corporate America. Seriously, guys, what century is this, anyway?

Check back at Fool.com every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on corporate governance.

The Fool owns shares of Under Armour, which is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation and a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Urban Outfitters; for more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (13)

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  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2011, at 3:47 PM, anoldbag wrote:

    Interesting that UA has no women on the board nor any in their senior line up except the VP of HR....Guess it still is a good old friends of the founder club

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2011, at 4:21 PM, Paulistano wrote:

    I don´t see that more women would necessarily make any difference. Most boards in my experience are stacked with friends and soul mates of the executives who are not interested in making waves.

    I know two guys who are on the boards of companies – one a huge bank – whose opinions on even the weather I wouldn´t trust.

    I also know a woman who is chairman of the board of a European company and member of several others but she is a long-term insider, very close to the chairman, and a Margaret Thatcher-type who does not agree with quotas for women.

    In fact, she is to all intent and purposes an honorary man!

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2011, at 6:31 AM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    Alyce Lomax

    “Collections of people who think differently often make better decisions than homogenous groups who all think alike. Fuller female participation on boards would provide a much-needed depth of perception and experience that many companies clearly lack.”

    I agree with the first sentence.

    Your second sentence could apply to many types of individuals’ participation. Many boards are too cozy with the CEO and many times this manifests itself in poor company performance.

    The case has been made for broad board diversity, intellectually. I wish you had included some specific examples of companies with fuller female participation on their boards and the resulting performance over an extended period of time. If fuller female participation on boards is positive, it should manifest itself in a company’s performance.

    You make the case for board diversity. Although I agree with you, I don’t feel you made the case for fuller female participation specifically.

    Fool on !

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2011, at 8:30 AM, finchesblog wrote:

    An important subject but everyone misses the critical point. Corporations and recruiters have an inflexible attitude. They reject people for senior roles who have taken a career break; they reject people who decide to accept a less demanding role while they bring up a family; and then, when an individual is ready to return to the career ladder they face age discrimination on top of this. It is not clear that these forms of discrimination are rational but they are the easy response - you don't match my template so I reject you. Does a career break, for example, really make someone less able or will they actually return to work just as dedicated and ambitious and able to re-establish skills and networks of contacts very quickly? But by corporations taking the easy way the pool of talented female executives who are available for promotion to corporate boards is greatly diminished.

    The solution is not quotas but changing attitudes to recruitment and people management. Offering executive mothers flexible working arrangements would be a step forward too. Someone should set up a network that presses corporations to sign up to commitments to make some of these changes in attitude throughout their organisations.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2011, at 9:12 AM, edmond5 wrote:

    You'd be a lot hotter if you could compliment us men once in a while. Buy like a woman, sell like a woman, women are smarter, men are evil...sheesh. I noticed you didn’t include The Motley Fool in your list...yet there appears to be only ONE female adviser, ONE on the executive team, and NONE on the board of directors. The only thing that irritates me more is obscure Vietnamese spam.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2011, at 2:12 PM, brigar6 wrote:

    When will it ever become a time when the person best suited gets the job,if you own a company and the operative word is own than you have the right to put whom ever you feel is the best fit for YOUR company.

    If company have board of directors etc than it should be fairly obvious they KNOW what they are doing. Would YOU hire someone to watch or or make decisions that ultimately affect $ in your pocket?

    Career break, old boys club, discrimination,favouritism its endless.....At what point do the target groups (minority,female, native, relationship partners etc) stop thinking that they are owed? When do they stop trying to paint corporations/gov't into a awkward spot by continually crying and yelling so loud that all hear it, IT should be my job? Its sad yet it happens everyday, policing, fire department, gov't jobs, municipal jobs, promotion etc (target groups do not need hit the same standard levels during the interview processes to have their applications continue into the next round, while more qualified better suited people get left behind?

    When does a hiring rule stop being (when need 5 new people and 4 must be visibly target groups, women,minority, the # may fluctuate bottom line is NOT VERY often are the people higher from target groups higher in suitability and qualifications than those passed over on the list until one of the numbers got filled?) ITS a joke, actually pitiful, and now qualified women start to feel they get no respect in the workplace, why? because its perpetuated by the ones that shouldn't be hired and are, they all get the dame brush stroke.......

  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2011, at 9:36 PM, brigar6 wrote:

    To Arnold your right about UA's board, I am sure a few women thrown in just 'because' might pull them out of the funk and downward spiral that they are in....

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