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ATL Business Chronicle

All-male boardrooms gone among Georgia’s top public companies

Maria Saporta
Cheri Husney Rona Wells

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Nov. 8, 2019

For women serving on boards of Georgia’s public companies, 2019 was a good year.

OnBoard, the nonprofit that tracks the presence of women directors and officers on Georgia’s public company boards, says in a new study that for the first time in the organization’s 27-year history, the top 50 public companies in Georgia all now have at least one woman on their boards.

“There are no longer any all-male boards among Georgia’s top 50 companies,” said Cheri Husney, OnBoard’s 2018-2019 president. “We are seeing a groundswell of focus on diversity and inclusion. There’s more meaningful activity and support from the business community.”

The 2019 study has several hopeful indicators.

Cheri Husney Rona Wells

Cheri Husney, the 2018-2019 president of OnBoard; and Rona Wells, executive director of OnBoard. OnBoard tracks the number of women on Georgia’s public boards every year (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Although the number of Georgia’s public companies dropped from 123 in 2018 to 118 along with the total number of directors from 959 to 904, the total number of women directors increased from 148 to 157.

That translated to the highest percentage of women serving on Georgia’s public companies boards – 17.4 percent. In 2014, only 11.2 percent of the total board seats were held by women.

The percentage of Georgia’s public companies with at least one woman on their board also increased to 72.3 percent, a jump of nearly 20 percent from 2014 when only 53.7% of Georgia’s public companies had at least one woman board member.

Perhaps the most encouraging figure is what OnBoard calls the “fill rate.” Of all the new directors named to Georgia boards in the past year, 35 percent were filled by women. In 2014, the fill rate by women was only 11.9 percent.

“The fill rate is a leading indicator,” said Rona Wells, OnBoard’s executive director who is in charge of compiling the annual study. “This year was a continuation of last year’s success.”

The fill rate has steadily climbed the past four years (about 5 percent a year) when it was 19.8 percent in 2016.

Kelly Gay, OnBoard’s president-elect, said attitudes have changed dramatically since when she first became involved nearly 20 years ago. She could remember executives being somewhat dismissive when OnBoard would talk about the need to have more women directors. Today, most executives welcome that conversation.

“It’s an easier conversation,” Husney agreed.

Georgia has 18 Fortune 500 companies, and all of them have multiple women directors – with one exception – Mohawk Industries, which has only one woman board member.

“Among the major companies, it’s expected to have women on their boards,” Wells said. “They expect it among themselves.”

That said, 33 of Georgia’s 119 public companies still have no women board members. That includes EVO Payments Inc., Ebix Inc., Priority Technology Holdings Inc., GreenSky Inc., Atlanticus Holdings Corp., Williams Industrial Services Group Inc., and American Software Inc. among other smaller Georgia companies.

For the past several years, OnBoard has been pushing the concept of “the power of three.” Board dynamics begin to change when there are at least three women directors on a board. Eighteen Georgia companies have three or more women on their board, with The Coca-Coca Co. leading the pack with five women on its board.

The latest business to become a “Power of Three” company is Saia Inc., a trucking company based in Johns Creek.

On Nov. 1, Saia named two new women to its board: Donna E. Epps, a retired partner of Deloitte LLP, who joined the board on Oct. 30; and Susan F. Ward, a retired vice president and chief accounting officer for United Parcel Service Inc., who will join the board on Nov. 24. Saia already had a woman board member – Di-Ann Eisnor, an executive of the We Co.

OnBoard is especially proud of that announcement.

Wells said that Ward is a member of OnBoard. She also went through the OnBoard Development Group, that helps provide training to women and raises their visibility for potential board candidacies.

Looking ahead, OnBoard is going to focus on improving the number of women of color serving on the boards of Georgia’s public company.

Although there has been some improvement, only 3.43 percent of the board seats in Georgia are held by women of color (which is nearly the double percentage in 2014, when it was 1.74 percent.

Among Georgia’s top 50 companies, only 17 have a woman of color on their boards. Among the 18 Fortune 500 companies in Georgia, only half have a woman of color.

“Having gender diversity matters,” Husney said. “But having diversity beyond gender is also important. We need to turn our focus to that.”

OnBoard also tracks the number of women officers within Georgia’s public companies.

In all, there are 105 women officers in the C-suites of Georgia’s public companies – making 15.5 percent of all the officers listed in SEC filings. That is up from 10.4 percent in 2014.

Of the 119 companies in the OnBoard study, only 53.8 percent have a woman officer.

The theme of this year’s study is “Climbing to New Heights” because of the uptick in almost every category tracked. But OnBoard’s leaders are not going to sit back because they know there is still a long way to go before Georgia’s public company boards and executive suites reflect the overall population with half being women.

OnBoard will release its latest report before its annual award dinner on Nov. 13 at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel and Conference Center. At the annual awards dinner, the keynote speaker will be Laurie Ann Goldman, a former CEO of Atlanta-based Spanx who serves on several corporate boards.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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