Column: Financial reform could boost board diversity

By Maria Saporta
Friday, June 25, 2010

Proposed financial regulations may increase the diversity on corporate boards as companies are being required to disclose more information.

That was the consensus among a panel of women experts speaking at a Board of Directors Network breakfast June 23 at 103 West on how current governance events might impact “gender parity in the boardroom.”

Rona Wells, BDN’s executive director, said progress in adding more women on corporate boards is moving at a “glacial pace.” In 2009, women held 7.6 percent of the 1,319 board seats on Georgia’s public companies. Five years ago, they held 7.3 percent of those seats.

The panel of women said they are hopeful that change is coming.

“The real action is going on in other parts of the world,” said Vicki Kramer, principal of V. Kramer & Associates, which specializes in workplace issues. “We are being influenced by what’s going on elsewhere.”

Kramer said European countries are leading the pack. In 2003, Norway passed a law requiring that 40 percent of all corporate board seats be held by women within five years. “At the time, the figure was 6.8 percent,” Kramer said, adding that most Norwegian companies met that goal ahead of schedule.

Spain and France also have been passing similar “quota” legislation requiring greater women representation on boards.

English-speaking countries, such as England, Canada and Australia, are taking a different approach by setting targets for more representation. Companies then must either “comply or explain” how they are meeting those targets.

In the United States, it’s possible there will be greater pressure to increase diversity on boards by setting targets.

“There’s definitely a buzz going on in the corporate world about diversity,” said Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane, founder and president of Nvest-com who also is president of ION, the national group that measures the representation of women on public boards.

Laurent-Ottomane said she was encouraged by what she is seeing nationally as the Securities and Exchange Commission is requiring companies to include their diversity plans in their annual proxies.

“I think the regulatory environment with the SEC is going to make a big change,” she said. “The quota system here, whether we agree or disagree, is probably never going to happen. But the fact that they have to even consider diversity means they’ll have to make changes.”

Also, ION now is sending letters to the public companies with no women directors “challenging them in very nice and helpful ways” to add more diversity on their boards, Laurent-Ottomane said. “We are as proactive as we can be and not be alienating.”

Arts Center’s ‘surge.’

Thanks to a last-minute “surge,” the Woodruff Arts Center campaign ended up coming closer to meeting its $8.6 million goal.

In mid-May, the Woodruff Arts Center feared that it would fall short of its goal by as much as $350,000.

“We had a wonderful surge in the final two weeks, enabling us to come within $200,000 of the $8.6 million goal,” said Beauchamp Carr, executive vice president of the Woodruff Arts Center who organizes the annual campaign. That put the center within 98 percent of reaching its goal. The campaign closed out on May 31.

One reason for coming so close to meeting the goal was that there were 25 new donors who joined the Patron Circle of Stars — giving at least $15,000.

There also were five donors that joined the Chairman’s Council — those giving $100,000 or more. They were: the Klaus Family Foundation, the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation, Novelis Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Regions Financial Corp. Regions’ executive Bill Linginfelter chaired this year’s campaign.

The two top corporate donors to the campaign were The Coca-Cola Co. and the Georgia Power Foundation, each giving at least $450,000 this year.

Photo fest developing

Bank of America has become the first-ever presenting sponsor for the monthlong “Atlanta Celebrates Photography” festival — now in its 12th year. The October festival will have more than 150 events and exhibits all over town, featuring the work of more than 400 photographers.

“This is really a momentous occasion for us,” said Amy Miller, executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography. “It’s just nice to be validated. We work so hard to be inclusive of the arts community and building culture in the city. To have that recognized is just wonderful.”

Miller said that Bank of America’s $20,000 presenting sponsorship developed out of a meeting with representatives of the Metro Atlanta Arts Fund.

For more information on the festival, go to: www.ACPinfo.org.

Southside philanthropy

It’s rare for a philanthropic foundation to focus its giving on Coweta and Fayette counties.

But that is just what the Abraham J. & Phyllis Katz Foundation is doing. It recently gave a grant to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to make sure that three Coweta County schools received new or refurbished musical instruments. The $18,000 grant is enabling all interested students in those three schools to enroll in band or play music by helping provide the cost of buying or renting the instruments.

The three schools receiving those grants are Northside Elementary, Smokey Road Middle School and Evans Middle School. The donation comes at an opportune time because many music programs around the country are losing funding.

The foundation’s executive director is Deva Hirsch, who used to be co-executive director of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

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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