Philadelphia Region Still Lagging in Board Gender Diversity

By Eve Tahmincioglu
October 17, 2018

Will a California-type law mandating women on boards be the only answer?

Growth of gender diversity in the boardroom remains anemic in the Philadelphia region, despite a resolution passed last year in the state encouraging companies to put more women on boards.

A report released Wednesday by the Forum of Executive Women found that only 17% of overall board seats at publicly traded companies in the region were held by women in 2017, a slight increase from 16% in the year before. And the percentage of board-seat openings that went to women grew to 19%, from 17% in the year-ago period.

The numbers are discouraging, acknowledges Margaret A. McCausland, president of the Forum, the group that supported the resolution in 2017.

Education, she says, is one way to get companies to start taking gender diversity seriously, but given the slow progress, more may be needed.

“Encouragement isn’t mandating,” she notes, referring to a new law in California requiring companies to add at least one woman to their boardrooms by the end of 2019 and a minimum of two by 2021.

California’s law could be replicated across the country, she explains, if it survives legal challenges.

While the Forum has not taken a position on supporting a gender diversity law in Pennsylvania, she says, “the needle has typically moved in the past because of the passage of laws.” She pointed to Title VII that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and the Americans With Disabilities Act as two anti-discrimination laws that are now “engrained in our society.” 

One encouraging finding from the Forum’s report was that 12 companies in the region have 30% or more women on their boards.

But other data points weren’t as positive:

  • 43% of the 100 largest public companies in the region still conduct business with all-male leadership teams — no change from the year before.
  • Out of the 625 total executives, only 15% were women.
  • In 2017, only five of the region’s companies had female CEOs.
  • Over the last eight years, the percentage of female top earners improved by only one percentage point and stands at 10% in 2017.
  • 60% of companies reported no female top-earners.