Women on Boards

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.

2020 Exceeds Its Goal

We did it!
Three years ahead of schedule, we exceeded our campaign goal: women now hold 20.8% of the board seats of our GDI Fortune 1000 companies, a cohort of 801 companies remaining from our baseline 2010 Fortune 1000 list.
Today, more than half of our Index companies are Winning 'W's and the numbers of Zero 'Z' and Token 'T' companies are falling to an all-time low. We’re celebrating this breakthrough at our 6th National Conversation on Board Diversity on November 15 and 16 at 20 events in 19 cities across the country, with over 3000 people attending. But the work’s not done.
Fifty-five GDI companies have no women on their boards. Thirty-four of those companies have never had a woman director in the seven years that we’ve been tracking this data. Because smaller companies are slower to advance women to the boardroom, this year we have expanded our database to include companies on the Russell 3000 Index. True to form, women hold just 16.2% of the board seats for these companies. Thanks to Equilar, our new research partner, for providing us with the Russell 3000 data.

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.


Syndicate content