Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity recently noted that continued focus is necessary for Fortune 500 boards to be more representative of the U.S. population. Research on the state and national level has focused on this very issue – and on whether and at what pace company boards and C-Suites can become reflective of the broader U.S. population.
The evidence so far suggests that barriers traditionally impeding women and people of color who seek to advance their careers to the highest levels continue to exist. For example, in 2022, almost three-quarters of the directors of Fortune 500 boards were male, and four out of five were Caucasian, according to the consultancy Deloitte. Among the S&P 500, a third of directors are women, a marked increase from about 19% five years ago, but there was little improvement from 2022 to 2023 according to Spencer Stuart, an executive-recruiting firm. In the same study, Spencer Stuart found that in 2023, S&P 500 boardrooms on-boarded fewer than 400 new independent directors out of a total of more than 5,000 seats. Half of those companies took on no additional board directors.
Given the rather sluggish pace of board turnover, it is not surprising that board refreshment has become a focus of increasing attention in recent years. Although boards are looking less often to the CEOs and CFOs of other companies when filling vacant board seats, they also appear to have retrenched from the more rapid rise in the appointment of women and racial minorities to top leadership positions that was achieved during the 2020-2022 period.
So how do the top 100 firms in Massachusetts (MA) by net revenue compare to efforts to increase gender and racial diversity at the national level and to the demographics of the U.S. population?
All 100 companies in this year’s analysis have at least one female director on their boards. This statistic is in line with board composition of companies in the S&P 500 since 2020, but the Fortune 500 and the Russell 3000 still lag behind in this regard. The Fortune 100 has achieved greater progress towards diverse representation on boards than the broader Fortune 500. Among Fortune 100 companies, women hold 31.6% of all board seats, and women from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups hold 8.8% of the total seats available. This compares with 30.4% of seats occupied by all women among Fortune 500 companies, and 7.8% of seats held by women from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
REPRESENTING THE POPULATION. Current U.S. Census estimates show that women constitute 50% of the general U.S. population. However, for the Fortune 500, whose data is tracked by the Deloitte Missing Pieces report, only 16 companies have managed to appoint boards with 50% or more women directors; and only 13 of the companies compare favorably with the general population statistics, with 18% or greater Hispanic/Latino(a) board representation. There are somewhat better trends in Fortune 500 companies’ board representation with respect to two other important demographics: 204 companies have 13% or greater board representation of African American/Black people, and 211 companies have 6% or greater Asian/Pacific Islander representation.
Among the top 100 firms in Massachusetts, women now hold 30.7% of the board seats, but only 5 companies have boards consisting of at least 50% women directors. However, 54 companies in MA have at least one director who is a woman of color and 23 have at least one executive officer who is a woman of color. These numbers indicate that although the MA companies are not far behind the Fortune 100 and slightly ahead of the Fortune 500 in terms of gender diversity, they fall short when compared to the overall U.S. population.
GENDER PARITY. Another area of increasing interest is the number of companies that have achieved gender parity in the boardroom – where at least 50% of the total number of directors are women. In 2023, five companies in Massachusetts now have reached gender parity, which is a slightly better result than Fortune 500 companies have achieved thus far. And 58 of the 100 companies in MA now have at least three women directors on their boards, indicating that gender parity is increasingly within reach.
Another positive data point is that 15 companies now have at least 3 women directors and 3 executive officers. Studies have shown that three or more women in board and executive officer positions constitute a critical mass that can positively impact board dynamics in fundamental ways. Interestingly, according to the 50/50 Women on Boards 2023 Gender Diversity Index Report, 12% of the Russell 3000 companies now have boards that have reached gender parity.
Some industry sectors are lagging others according to the Gender Diversity Index, in particular Financial Services. In contrast, among the top 100 companies in MA, the Financial Services sector has an average of 30.7% women board directors, and at that percentage is third highest among all 6 sectors.
In 2023, more women are now actively engaged in the workforce than ever before; yet they do not seem to be climbing the ranks to the boardroom. According to the 2023 Gender Diversity Index, unless the sluggish pace of progress is reversed, gender parity on corporate boards in the U.S. will not be achieved until 2044.
Companies hold the keys to improving these trends by focusing on their board talent pipelines. First, they can continue to remove barriers to the promotion of women among middle management. Sitting C-Suite executives and board members need to recommend the elevation or women to executive officer positions and to board seats in their own companies as well as the boards of supplier organizations, enterprise customers, etc. Second, placing women in board leadership positions also helps. According to 50/50 Women on Boards, when the positions of CEO, Board Chair and Nominating Chair are all held by women, the percentage of women on the boards of those companies rises to 48%, getting darn close to gender parity.
For more information:
Bentley U./Boston Club Census at https://www.thebostonclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/The-Boston-Club-2023-Census.pdf
50/50 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index at https://5050wob.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2023-GDI-Annual-Report.pdf?mc_cid=83fd704d4f&mc_eid=0ee8e273aa