Legislator calls for more California companies to put women on their boards

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 - 12:25 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013 - 2:20 pm

Women are still largely shut out of corporate boardrooms in California, and that’s bad business, says a group of academics, women business owners and legislators.

“The corporate boardroom is one of the last arenas where women do not have equality,” said state Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who authored a resolution pressing the state’s companies to get more women seated on their boards of directors. Her resolution, SCR 62, passed the state Senate on a 30-6 vote Monday and now goes to the state Assembly.

By December 2016, it urges California companies with nine or more board seats to have at least three held by women; boards with fewer than five members were urged to name at least one woman.

Acknowledging that her resolution isn’t a mandate, Jackson called it “a symbolic show of support” that’s intended to “start a discussion here in California.” Jackson noted that California and the United States lag far behind countries like Norway, France and Spain, all of which have passed legislation requiring their companies to reach quotas of 40 percent women as board members.

In the last eight years, California has seen “shockingly little change” in the number of women on corporate boards of the state’s 400 largest publicly held companies, according to UC Davis researcher Amanda Kimball, who conducts the university’s annual study of female representation in corporate settings. “At this rate, it would take more than 100 years to reach gender balance,” she said.

In its most recent study, issued last December, UCD reported that only 10 percent of those 400 companies had board seats occupied by women, with the worst record held by the state's semiconductor industry. The UCD study is based on each company's year-end corporate data for fiscal 2011.

The study named 179 companies that have no women on their boards, including Adobe Systems Inc., California First National Bancorp, GenCorp Inc., Monster Beverage Corp., Sketchers USA and the Cheesecake Factory Inc.

Among the 22 companies lauded for having at least three women on their boards were Cisco Systems Inc., Google Inc., Visa Inc., Walt Disney Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and McClatchy Co., which owns The Sacramento Bee.

Steven Currall, dean of the UC Davis graduate school of management, said the study paints “a dismal picture” of diversity in California’s corporate board rooms and executive suites, especially since the companies sampled collectively hold more than $3 trillion in stock market value.

He and others said that opening more corporate doors to women is about more than gender equality, but financial benefit to companies and their employees.

Currall said a number of studies have shown that women board members contribute to improved financial performance. “Often, they have a more sophisticated view of risk: the potential downside of decisions.” He said that women sometimes can be more careful than men “who tend to rush ahead,” motivated by their own career advancement or interest in making bold mergers and acquisitions.

Last August, a Credit Suisse study that looked at 2,360 companies globally found that companies with at least one woman on their boards did better than those without women, in terms of higher average growth, stock price performance and other metrics.

Historically, a number of barriers have barred women from taking seats on more corporate boards. One of those, said Jackson, is that women are often left on the sidelines by male board members, who typically don’t step down until age 72 or older. And when they do, they frequently tap an “old boys’ network” for their replacements.

“The pipeline of qualified women is bursting with potential women candidates. The roadblock is the lack of open seats,” said Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, a Los Angeles business owner who sits on the board of the National Association of Women Business Owners, California chapter. She said there are thousands of eligible California women who are business owners or at the CFO or senior VP level of their companies.

Jackson, vice chair of the state’s Legislative Women’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of 30 female legislators, introduced her resolution a week after Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke in the Capitol on her movement, LeanIn.org, which encourages women to be more vocal about pursuing their career ambitions.


Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog.

Read more articles by Claudia Buck





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