For the first time ever, women now make up a quarter of all directors on the boards of Georgia’s public companies, according to OnBoard, an organization that’s been keeping count for decades.
OnBoard is releasing its 2023 report at its annual Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award Dinner on Nov. 2 at the Fox Theater’s Egyptian Ballroom.
The 2023 report shows continued progress in the representation of women on Georgia’s corporate boards, but there was at least one moment for pause. The percentage of women filling newly available board seats dropped from 40.4 percent in 2022 to 34.9 percent in 2023.
“Our goal is parity — 50 percent or better,” said Lisa Robinson, CEO of OnBoard, who added that the “fill rate” needs to be more than 50 percent to reach that goal. OnBoard’s leaders pay special attention to the fill rate because that is an indicator of whether women are gaining ground. “If nothing else, it was a reminder for us to stay at it. Someday it would be great if we could stop counting because there would be no need.”
Kim Greene, chair and CEO of Georgia Power, agreed.
Greene will receive the prestigious 2023 Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award for her work promoting the advancement of women.
“We are not where we need to be in terms of parity in the board room or parity in the C-suites,” Greene said in an interview. “We can’t be complacent and feel we’ve arrived.”
The 2023 report did confirm some encouraging trends compared to the 2022 report. The number of Georgia public companies with three or more women on their boards increased from 43 to 45 — that’s despite the total number of companies dropping from 126 to 117.
It’s important to note that as recently as 2008, there was only one Georgia company with three women on its board. Of those 45, nearly half (21) have more than three women on their boards.
Coca-Cola is the first Georgia company to have seven women directors, and it has an equal number of men and women serving on its board.
Intercontinental Exchange continues to be the only Georgia board with more women directors (six) than men (four).
The other Georgia company that’s at parity or better is First Advantage Corp., which has four women and four men directors.
Again, it’s important to recognize that OnBoard’s 2022 study was the first to show any Georgia company achieving parity on its board, according to Rona Wells, who has coordinated the OnBoard study for decades and worked with Grace Nelson with. the. impact reporting firm Magenta to compile the 2023 study.
“By looking closely to the Power of 3 companies, it shows that companies are looking beyond a token woman to serve on their boards,” Wells said. “We think company leaders realize it’s good for business to have women on their boards.”
Greene totally understands the Power of 3.
She has been serving as a director of Valero, based in San Antonio, for more than seven years. When she joined, there were a total of four women on the board. One retired, but Valero then added another women director, so it’s back up to four women directors.
“It’s a wonderful company with a wonderful chairman and CEO,” Greene said. “Having three or more women has been my only experience. I’m fortunate to be on a board that has this level of gender diversity.”
Another good marker in time is the total percentage of women directors in Georgia’s public companies. In 1994, women made up less than 4 percent of the director seats. In 2015, it was 12.1 percent, which means the percentage has more than doubled in less than 10 years.
“The progress is meaningful compared to where we were less than a decade ago,” Rachel Perry, OnBoard’s chair who serves as chief innovation officer for AON, a global professional services firm.
Last year, there were 17 Georgia public companies with no women directors. The 2023 study documented only 15 because Bitmine Immersion Technologies added one woman director and GeoVax Labs Inc. added two women directors.
Keeping a historical perspective is important. When Greene joined the Southern Co. in February 1991, she often was the only woman in the room or on a team. She remembered that one of her first projects was working on the engineering for Plant Vogtle 1 and 2.
“Even though I was often the only woman on my team, the men I worked with treated me with respect and made me feel I was valued,” Greene said. “Being the only woman and being the first woman have been experiences I’ve become accustomed to. However, I have also recognized what an important role I have in trying to blaze trails of my own so other women won’t have to go through that.”
Greene also has experienced being in a room where she’s had to repeat herself in order to be heard.
“I’ve always felt responsibility to speak up, and if I’m not heard, to speak up again,” Greene said. “Being the only woman can be challenging; however it’s important to speak up.”
An area of marginal improvement was the number of women of color on Georgia’s public company boards.
Women of color held 62 of the 991 board seats on Georgia’s public companies (6.3 percent) — an all-time record since OnBoard began tracking that category in 2002.
“As a woman of color and chair of OnBoard, I’m not yet satisfied,” Perry said. “We need to celebrate the all-time high while acknowledging the need for continued progress in the overall representation of women of color on Georgia’s boards.”
Given the strong results in OnBoard’s studies over the past several years, Robinson noted the fill rate this past year had given her pause.
“Each of the last five years has been record setting,” Robinson said. “It is a wake-up call and an impetus for us to work directly with corporations to offer board-ready women candidates.”
Perry also is motivated to keep the issue at the forefront. From 2020 to 2022, , companies had a high level of “intentionality” to diversify their boards and corporate suites.
“I’m concerned corporations, including those based in Georgia, are lessening their focus on diversity and inclusion,” said Perry, adding she remains committed to making sure companies are intentional in their efforts to become more inclusive and diverse.
For Greene, she highlighted Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans, who was one of the first women to serve on a corporate board when she joined the Coca-Cola Co. board in 1934 and served as a director for more than two decades.
“It is an honor to be recognized with an award named for such a remarkable woman who blazed the trail for women serving on corporate boards in America,” Greene said. “I hope in the not-too-distant future, the words ‘first woman’ would be a thing of the past.”