corporate boards

An August to Remember

You’ve heard how hard it is to find qualified women board appointees?  Not for these seven companies.  3M, Care.com, Dollar General, Jack in the Box, Potbelly, Raytheon and Tesla all appointed women to their boards this month.  For some it was a noteworthy first, for others a natural second or third woman director. 

These newly appointed directors bring a range of high-level skills including  IT operations, digital marketing, financial expertise and retail savvy.  Proof positive that senior women executives have the skills and experience that boards need - including industry knowledge, operational experience and functional expertise.

As such, we look forward to their contributions including:
• Diversity of Thought: Women on boards bring different perspectives to the difficult issues facing today’s corporations. It is widely believed that diversity of thought results in better decision making.

• Stakeholder Representation: The makeup of corporate boards of directors should be representative of the company in which it governs: shareholders, employees, and customers.

• Competitive Advantage: A diverse board is better positioned to thrive in today’s global economy where the pace of change is accelerating and rapidly changing economic realities require nimble, strategic and well informed directors.

So the next time you hear the excuse, “we can’t find qualified women,” remember this month’s pool of just-tapped talent.  We applaud all of our recent appointees, and encourage other companies to dive on in, the water’s fine. 

Urban Revolt

For a company whose target market is mostly women, Urban Outfitters is failing miserably on behalf of its board’s gender diversity. Investors are not pleased. Almost half of the company's independent shareholders voted in favor of a resolution to commit to a policy of inclusion that would consider women and minority candidates for the board. The resolution was rejected.
 
Over the past three years, shareholders have repeatedly voiced concern regarding Urban’s all male board, submitting proposals that would address the issue. With each proposal getting shot down, shareholders are digging in, refusing to accept such blatant disregard for gender diversity in the corporate world. In response to their disgruntled investors, Urban appointed one woman to the board last year: the founder and chief executive’s wife. As Gretchen Morgensen said in a New York Times article last year, "Talk about poking your shareholders in the eye with a stick."
 
Trying to understand Urban’s response is perhaps even more difficult when you compare Urban to a company in the same market: Abercrombie & Fitch. A&F jumped the proverbial gun and nominated four women executives, highly qualified in retail, to their board in anticipation of their annual meeting this month.
 
We applaud the Urban investors and their protest vote, and hope more companies like Abercrombie & Fitch recognize the value that women bring to the boardroom table. 

Old Attitudes Die Hard

We're often asked why it's taking so long for companies to diversify their boards.  Several studies in the news hint that hidden bias may be the culprit and a leading cause for discrimination in settings like academia, business and even the courts.
 
A few weeks ago I had jury duty. Waiting to see if I'd get picked for a trial, I watched a video about the Massachusetts court system. Here's what I learned:
 
Women in Massachusetts were only permitted to serve on juries in 1950 -- a full 30 years after getting the right to vote. My liberal home state was 39th in the nation to allow women defendants to be judged by their peers. In 1975 the US Supreme Court made it the law of the land, ruling that women could not be excluded from the jury pool. In 1979, the Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court ruled that particular traits, including race and gender, could not be used to strike potential jurors. The landmark decision, Commonwealth v. Soares, is considered to mark the end of permissible gender bias in the selection of jurors in Massachusetts. [1]
 
The end of permissible bias ... there's the rub! Only 40 years ago (less than two generations) juries were comprised of white men. This 'norm' informed our social and cultural memory. It got me to wondering: Can you overcome gender bias without regulation, and if so, how long does it take? Is it a matter of years or might it take generations?
 

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