Women on US boards

What are we seeing?

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Despite increasing recognition for the value women bring to corporate boards, US companies continue a slow march toward gender diversity. While progress is being made, it is not at the pace needed to result in a significant expansion of board diversity in the near term, or to compete with public sector approaches being taken in other markets.

As part of the EY Center for Board Matter’s ongoing board diversity series, this year, we highlight three observations about gender diversity on US corporate boards. The report is based on the Center’s proprietary corporate governance database and reflects data from S&P 1500 companies.

  • Observation 1: Increasing board size to add female directors is common

    Women as a percentage of new board members across all companies has increased. And just about 15% of S&P 1500 companies have increased the number of female-held directorships since 2013. (Numbers are based on a subset of companies that held annual meetings in both years.)

    However, 51% of the companies that increased directorships held by women last year did so by increasing board size. This raises questions around whether boards are holistically refreshing or simply adding more directors to the board.

    It also explains why the larger the board size, the more likely it is for the board to include female directors.

    Only 54% of S&P 1500 companies with a board size of seven directors have at least one female director versus 98% for those with 12 directors.

    EY chart showing women as a percentage of new board members at S&P 1500 companies in 2014

    EY chart showing women as a percentage of new board members at S&P 1500 companies in 2014

  • Observation 2: Female directors bring different experience to the board

    A review of male and female directors reveals that female directors tend to be younger, less tenured, and more likely to serve on multiple company boards than their male counterparts. They are also less likely to be current CEO’s.

    EY graphic showing the percentage of female directors at S&P 500 companies in 2014

    EY chart showing the differences between female and male directors at S&P 500 companies in 2014

  • Observation 3: Gender diversity is rising, but slowly

    Despite efforts to advance board diversity by institutional investors and other groups, progress toward gender parity on US boards is minimal. Indeed, the proportion of women on boards has increased only 5 percentage points over the last 10 years.

    Only 16% of S&P 1500 board seats are held by women–less than the proportion of seats held by directors named John, Robert, James and William. Fifteen percent of S&P Midcap 400 and 12% of S&P SmallCap 600 directorships are held by women.

    EY chart showing percentage of board seats held by women from 2006-2014.

    Boards of larger companies are significantly more gender diverse. While 98% of Fortune 100 companies have at least one woman on their boards, only two-thirds of SmallCap companies do.

    In general, more women are being appointed to board and executive leadership positions though change continues to be gradual.

    EY chart showing positions held by men and women directors on US boards in 2014