U.S. Companies Still Slow to Name Female Board Directors

By VITAMIN W Staff
Year after year, headlines read, "U.S. Boards of Directors Still Lag Behind in Appointing Women."  
Why is America losing the international race to get women on corporate boards? According to the Harvard Business Review, in several countries, the ranks of female directors at big companies are growing because of legal mandates and voluntary efforts from the powers that be.
In November, European Union lawmakers backed draft rules that would impose a 40 percent quota for female directors. While quotas almost always come with a backlash, it's a start. Changing any foundation takes work, and mistakes will be made.
At least the EU is trying to deal with the issue. But the numbers are still pretty flat here in the U.S. The percentage of women directors at Fortune 500s were only at 16.9 percent in 2013. In 2012 and 2011, it was 16.6 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively.
Boris Groysberg and Deborah Bell say the road to real change is complicated because, "We contend [that] in order to see real movement, change must occur within three spheres: at the country, organizational, and individual levels."
They use New Zealand as an example: 
The country has been cited as a standout on the gender-gap front, consistently recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a leader based on evaluation of four domains: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival. Additionally, the New Zealand government has endeavored for many years to provide support to working women and families; for example, passing the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act in 1987, which mandates paid maternity leave and subsidized daycare for working mothers. In the corporate sphere, the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) implemented the Diversity Listing Rule in 2012 that requires companies to annually report their boards’ gender composition.
Countries are actually devising remedies that include "the legislative implementation of quotas to regulatory agency reporting requirements (e.g., of the gender composition on boards) to increase women’s representation on boards." Sure, this seems like affirmative action, and despite all the critics of legislation that forces decision-makers to implement more diversity, leveling the playing field wouldn't be such an issue if women were culturally deemed as competent as men. Let's keep it real, many of the folks on boards, and bosses in general, get a pass many times for being incompetent or not productive -because it does pay to be a man. 
Real change takes some deep work from the foundation up. Put it this way, women in the U.S. were only granted the right to vote in 1920, and President Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the true turning point in America's history of beginning to embrace blacks as full citizens with equal rights. So women dominating the boards of some of the nation's biggest public companies will probably take even more time and effort. The U.S. still has a lot of growing up to do.
Although Bell and Groysberg highlight the strides made in New Zealand, they also point out, "We haven’t seen as much effort at the organizational level, which we believe could be the most determinative lever of change. In fact, we are not aware of a country that has seen effective action in all three."
Although women directors in New Zealand are more credentialed and serve on more boards, they still hold substantially fewer leadership positions on boards. Sure, New Zealand ranks as one of the top countries for gender equality in the world, but what else needs to be done? We're thinking change needs to come on an individual level, which then has an impact on a possible cultural shift. And so continues the battle to level a global playing field that favors a man.
 
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