Women matter far more than the business world has traditionally acknowledged. Studies now suggest that companies perform better with women leaders. The ranks of women near the top of businesses are growing, but slowly. According to a recent BloombergBusinessWeek report, close to 10% of S&P 500 companies -- 47, to be exact -- have no women on their board of directors. That's a stupid risk to their performance and prosperity.
My colleague Alyce Lomax cited a 2010 McKinsey study, which found that companies with women on their boards outperformed those without by 41% in terms of equity, and 56% in operating results.
Women and men often think in different ways, and in general have different dispositions. Per a recent Vanguard study of people earning between $30,000 and $75,000, a significantly greater percentage of women than men made 401(k) contributions. In this case, at least, women are clearly making the smarter choice.
When asked why they don't have women at the top, some companies explain that their industries harbor too few women with the required expertise, shrinking the potential pool of candidates. But financial journalist Terry Savage scoffs at that argument, noting that she sat on the board of an oil company for six years:
The fact is that more than half the employees of that hugely industrial corporation were women … I did not have to be an expert on drilling to be on that board. There is always something that a woman can contribute.
Consider Titanium Metals
Many of the 47 companies with all-male boards might benefit from additional perspectives as they face their respective challenges. MEMC Electronic Materials
Meanwhile, several companies with no women at the top now report sizable insider sales. That's not necessarily a bad thing; many executives get paid largely in stock, and do occasionally sell some. But MetroPCS and NetApp
The paucity of women at the top of organizations is also puzzling, considering that so many companies either already serve many women, or are trying to attract more as customers. Urban Outfitters' stores tend to be full of female shoppers. The company's sales have not been growing as briskly as rival apparel retailers such as Buckle. More women executives might help steer Urban Outfitters in a more profitable direction.
Even companies with one or two women on their boards deserve some questioning. Sirius XM Radio
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Lowe's and Titanium Metals, as well as writing covered calls on Lowe's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.