gender diversity

When Women Lead: Women Leaders Positively Impact Boardroom Diversity

Our flagship reports, “When Women Lead” (2020 Women on Boards 2016, 2017) showed that when women hold positions of leadership (CEO, Board Chair and Nominating Chair) boards are more gender diverse than boards of companies led by men. The reports looked at companies in the Fortune 1000 index for 2015 and 2016.

We revisited the topic this year, looking at companies in the 2017 Russell 3000 Index, from our newly expanded Gender Diversity Directory. The results are similar to last year’s findings: Of the 2871 active companies, 125 have female CEOs.  The percentage of women on their boards is 30.2%, double that of male CEOs’ boards at 15.4%.  Eighty percent of the companies with female CEOs are Winning “W” Companies at 20% or greater. Only 37% of all the Russell companies are “W” companies.
One hundred and ten companies have female board chairs. The percentage of women on their boards is 28.1% compared to male board chairs at 15.5%.

In Russell 3000 companies, there are 4,082 board seats held by 3110 unique women: 2242 (72%) of the women are on only one Russell 3000 board; 574 (18.5%) are on two boards; 225 (7.2%) on three boards; 64 (2.1%) on 4 boards; and 5 (.2%) on 5 boards. Many nominating committees of Russell 3000 companies have looked beyond a small group of “elite” women directors and found new, untapped talent.

Our research shows that women in corporate leadership positions impact the diversity of the boards of their companies. We call on male leaders to learn from their female colleagues and reap the benefits that a truly diverse board brings. 

To view the full report, click here.

Women: Not Present on IPO Company Boards

For years we have heard that men largely populate the boards of IPO companies. We decided to test that precept. 2020 Women on Boards looked at the gender composition of the boards of directors for the 25 largest IPOs[1] in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and the results are worse than expected. It is widely accepted that IPO company boards are populated by venture capital appointees who are mostly white men, but we hoped that at the point of going public, companies would recognize that board diversity is essential to success. Not so. Of the 75 largest IPOs from 2014 to 2016, nearly half, or 37 companies, went public with no women on their boards. Another 25%, or 19 companies, had only one woman. In other words, between 2014-2016, three fourths of companies with the largest IPOs went public with one or no women on their boards.


The optimists among us might assume that these companies would correct this judgement error in the first year or two of operating in the public eye—and in fact, several of them did. The number of Zero ‘Z’ Companies with no women on their boards dropped from 37 to 22, or 30%, and the number of Token ‘T’ Companies with one (token) woman rose from 19 to 27, or 37%, as ‘Z’ companies added a woman. Additionally, two all-male IPO companies that failed to diversify were no longer trading by May 2017. Nevertheless, even after a year or two of being public, two thirds of the companies still had one or no female directors.


Every year 2020 Women on Boards publishes the Gender Diversity Index (GDI). In 2016, the percentage of women on the boards of GDI companies rose to 19.7% and the percentage of women on the 2016 Fortune 1000 list was 18.8%. When we compare this progress to the recent IPOs where the percentage of women on these boards is 9.4%, we see how far we need to go.


Mad Men

Last fall it sure looked like we were closing the year on a high. Our 2016 Gender Diversity Index showed we were within a hair’s reach of achieving our goal of women holding 20% or more corporate boards seats. We looked forward to our 5th Annual National Conversation on Board Diversity, where a record breaking 2500 people registered to attend events in cities across the country to hear about women’s progress in the boardroom. We were poised to make history by electing the first woman president.
We all know what happened. As the inauguration approaches and confirmation hearings begin, those who will govern us are beginning to look like they belong in the hit show Mad Men: stale, pale and male. Four female appointments have been named to the cabinet, Nikki Hailey, Ambassador to the UN, Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary, Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration and Elaine Chao, Transportation.
It’s easy in this “I can’t believe it happened” moment to forget some of the progress we’ve made. According to our 2016 Gender Diversity Index, women hold 19.7% of the board seats in Fortune 1000 companies. Women had a net gain of 74 board seats in 2016 compared with a net loss of 71 seats for men. One hundred and twenty companies added women to their board last year, and of those 70 did so by increasing the size of their board to accommodate women rather than waiting for a man to step down.

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