Women on Corporate Boards in U.S. Lagging the Global Trends

This week, the SAIS Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom organized by Johns Hopkins University, is conducting a shirtsleeve conference on the global trends in Corporate Board Diversity. The participants are Corporate CEOs, board members, government regulators and experts in the field from countries around the globe. The purpose of the conference, now in its third year, is to understand what is working in other countries that are also supporting board member diversity. Importantly, what should the United States and companies headquartered here do to accelerate the process?

It's a fact that the number of women on corporate boards in the U.S. has been stalled at more or less 15 percent for most of the past decade. Little progress has been seen, and the question is why? Why is diversity good for boards and if it is, how do we accelerate the process of diversifying board member composition?

There are plenty of facts that support the results of greater diversity on boards. In the 2011 study conducted by Catalyst, the facts were reported as follows:

• 53 percent higher return on Equity
• 42 percent higher return on Sales
• 66 percent higher return on Invested Capital

Yet, despite these remarkable performance results, there still is resistance to accelerating board diversity. Conference Chair, Susan Ness, former Federal Communications Commission member and board member of Gannett, has assembled a stellar list of participants who are in position to take action at corporations on whose boards they serve.

Other countries have taken more direct action. The choices are spread among three choices: Quotas, Regulatory Goals and Voluntary Actions. The panel I will chair on Thursday, September 20th, will consider these options from other countries and will be streamed live at 9:30 AM EDT at www.boardroomdiversity.org. The other members of the panel are: Irene Natividad (CEO Corporate Women Directors International); Professor Susan Vinnicombe (Cranfield School of Management; Member, Lord Davies Task Force UK); Candace Johnson (Founder, European Business Schools Task Forse; tech entrepreneur); Shireen Muhiudeen (Managing Director, Coston-Smith Asset Management, Malaysia - Malaysia and South East Asia); and Jillian Segal (Director, Australian Stock Exchange Limited and National Australian Bank - Australia). We intend to set the platform for further discussion at the day long conference, where a number of experts in the field, will debate what course will be recommended coming out of this conference.

Let's hope that strong recommendations will come from this conference and will have the support of many organizations who are also working on the diversity issue. Let us join the global movement to bring more diversity to corporate boards. It's about time.

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