Amid the headlines about women losing ground in the workplace during the pandemic, Equilar releases new data on women’s progress towards equity on corporate boards. Equilar’s new Gender Diversity Index, released today, finds that 23.5% of all board mandates of the Russell 3000, which tracks the performance of the 3,000 largest US public companies, will be held by women as of the fourth quarter of 2020, up from 21.5% in fourth quarter of 2019, of 18.5% at the end of 2018 and of 15% at the end of 2016.
But while the percentage continues to grow, 6% of these Russell 3000 boards have no women at all, and on the other side of the spectrum, only 8% of the boards are 40% or more female. Only 71 companies have board members at least half of whom are women – only 2.4% of the total. That adds up to a startling fact: there are more than twice as many companies that do not have women on their board of directors as there are companies with half-female board members.
The problem: women were appointed to 39% of all new board memberships in 2020, compared to 44% in the previous year. Equilar warns that at the current rate, the boards will not reach gender parity until 2032. That is two years later than forecast a year ago.
Other studies show that the rate of change for racial diversity in boards is also slowing: Spencer Stuart reports that the percentage of new directors in the S&P 500 who were racial and ethnic minorities was 22% last year, after 23% in the previous year.
The same is true of other trends that could indicate that companies are cautious about looking for larger numbers of board candidates. In the fourth quarter, more director appointments were men on their first board, 52.4%, compared with 49% of women. Women are more likely to serve on multiple boards – 25% of women serve on multiple boards, compared with less than 17% of men – suggesting that companies are returning to the same group of women rather than dramatically expanding the opening of what kind Women or experience they might be looking for.
However, there are signs that the closing of the gender gaps is accelerating. Equilar reports that 44% of all new directorships were held by women in the fourth quarter, an acceleration from the full year average. 22 women joined the S&P 500 boards in January, according to a Bloomberg report. This is the largest increase in almost two years. This year there have been some notable appointments from CEOs from underrepresented groups. Roz Brewer and Thasunda Brown Duckett, both black women, have both been named CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Duckett was just named CEO of TIAA on May 1, a role she will take on after serving as CEO of JP Morgan’s Chase Consumer Banking division. Roz Brewer is the new CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance.
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