Capitol Alert

Women required on boards of public California companies under bill sent to Jerry Brown

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León embraces Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara as she casts her vote for the state budget on Wednesday afternoon, June 15 2016 at the California State Capitol.
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León embraces Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara as she casts her vote for the state budget on Wednesday afternoon, June 15 2016 at the California State Capitol. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Publicly traded companies based in California would be required to appoint women to the board of directors under a measure on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The bill mandates that corporate boards include at least one woman by the end of 2019 and as many as three by the end of 2021, depending on size. Companies that fail to comply could face a fine up to $300,000 from the California Secretary of State.

The Senate approved the bill 23 to 9 to send it to Brown on Thursday. The Assembly narrowly passed the proposal with the bare minimum 41 votes a day earlier.

“The time has come,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara who introduced the measure. “We need to make sure our business entities are more productive and more profitable. That’s exactly what appointing women to these boards will do.”

Senate Bill 826, which is sponsored by the National Association of Women Business Owners California, is a top priority for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus this year. Proponents say women are absent from one-fourth of the boards of directors in the state and California leaders have a responsibility ensure that female voices are included in top-level business discussions.

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure, and says it elevates women over other underrepresented segments of the population, requires companies to discriminate against qualified men and violates the independent voting rights of corporate boards.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said the bill “underestimates the power and strength of women.”

“For those that serve on boards and commissions and are already there, it discounts their abilities,” Anderson added. “We have tremendous women leaders here in California who are doing incredible things. To say that they can never find a way onto a board without our help undermines all their hard work.”

Jackson said the Legislature needed to take immediate action to address gender inequality.

“Now is the time when we have to step forward and say, ‘We are not going to ask anymore. We are tired of being nice. We are tired of being polite. We are going to require this because it’s going to benefit the economy. … It’s time that we burst that man cave,” she said.

Similar mandates exist in Europe. Norway requires publicly-traded companies to fill 40 percent of board positions with women.

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