Female directors transform thinking

Getting on board: gender diversity on corporate boards

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Placing women in board and key committee leadership roles can help transform board thinking, and impact key board decisions and processes.

A review of the biographies included in proxy statements for directorships held by approximately 275 women that joined boards in 2012 or 2011 shows that the majority of them are current or former public company executives. Most of these hold or held executive positions other than CEO.

Who are the women joining boards? More than 60% are current or former public company executives.

Professional background of women directors

Appointing non-CEO women executives to corporate boards helps to further develop those executives, thereby building the leadership pipeline, and meeting the career needs of highly talented individuals, while creating better-performing boards.

Breakdown of positions held by current/former public company executives

Qualifications of new directors: boards seek executive leadership

Companies must now disclose the particular experience, qualifications, attributes or skills that led the board to conclude that the person chosen should serve as a director of the company .

A review of this disclosure for women joining boards in 2012 and 2011 shows that executive leadership is the qualification most commonly cited by companies.

However, limiting director qualifications to executive leadership may prevent a board from recruiting some of the diverse backgrounds and expertise uniquely suited to that board given the company’s particular circumstances.

New women directorship qualifications Number of times cited by companies
Executive leadership 105
Industry expertise 99
Financial/accounting 97
Experience serving on other public company boards 64
Operational 61
Global perspective/international experience 56
Strategic planning 56
Marketing 45
Information/technology 44
Corporate governance 40
Public policy/government affairs/regulatory 38
Risk assessment/management 21
Legal 15
Human resources 12
Diversity 11
Entrepreneurial 8
Public service/civic activities 6

Less than 6% of independent board leadership roles are held by women

Women still rarely hold independent board leadership roles (independent chair or lead/presiding director).

Board leadership positions held by women

Women serving as: Proportion of all positions
CEO 3.8%
Independent board chair 1.1%
Lead/presiding director 4.2%

These key positions generally involve calling and presiding over board meetings, setting and approving board agendas, controlling the flow of information to the board and acting as a liaison between management and the board, and sometimes between shareholders, and the board.


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