Women Expect to Join More Corporate Boards

THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Women Expect to Join More Corporate Boards


NEW YORK (NYT) -- Karen Gordon Mills, a partner at a private equity firm in New York, is one of an elite group of women.

She is among a small but growing number of women who sit on the boards of the nation's largest corporations. And she expects that number to keep growing.

"I think that there will be an enormous amount of progress in the next several years," said Mills, who sits on three public boards.

So far, the gains have been slow but steady. Women this year held 12.4 percent of all board seats at Fortune 500 companies, up a bit from 11.7 percent in 2000, according to a report released this month by Catalyst, a New York research and advisory organization that works to advance women in business.

There has been a similarly small percentage increase each year since 1993, the first year Catalyst compiled the numbers, when 8.3 percent of directors for the largest companies were women. Eighty- seven percent of Fortune 500 companies now have at least one female board director, up from 84 percent in 1999.

The Fortune 500 and the larger, more recent Fortune 1000 come out each spring when Fortune magazine ranks, by annual revenue, the largest publicly traded U.S. companies by revenue.

While many, including those at Catalyst, are disappointed by the relatively low percentage of women on these boards, they hope that these figures will improve significantly in the next several years.

The reasons: Companies are beginning to recognize the business arguments for diversity, and the pool of highly qualified women is getting too large to ignore.

"Changing cultures and attitudes is slow," said Katherine Tobin, director of research at Catalyst. "I think that the companies in the spotlight all the time are more likely to have gotten the message that to be competitive it is better to be diverse. You want to have the best minds at the table."

Sheila Wellington, the president of Catalyst, said the challenge is that "many company leaders tend to look around their immediate circle for candidates to serve on their boards, and women tend not to be there."

For their own business benefit, companies need to consider the gender of their consumers and their work force, Wellington said. Women managers and board members provide a different perspective.

"CEOs have to cast their nets a little wider," Wellington urged. "There are many, many women who are willing and able to serve. They just have to look for them."

In 1993, just 345 Fortune 500 companies had at least one woman director compared with 434 this year. The 500 largest companies "tend to have larger boards, and therefore, are more likely to have at least one woman director," said the report, which was based on data collected this spring. …

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