OnBoard: Women gaining ground on Georgia’s public company boards
By Maria Saporta
A Georgia public company has six women directors on its board – a first in the state.
UPS announced on Nov. 3 its board was becoming more diverse with the addition of Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft US; and Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Aviation Services and chairman of GE Power Portfolio; to its board.
Since Carol Tomé became the new CEO of UPS on June 1, the board has added three women directors (40 percent of its 15-member board). Stokes is the third Black director of UPS – two of them named during Tomé’s tenure.
That is just one example of how women are continuing to make strides on Georgia’s public company boards, according to OnBoard, an organization that has been tracking the number of women on Georgia’s public company boards since 1993.
OnBoard will officially release the 2020 study at its annual dinner (to be held virtually this year) on Nov. 11. OnBoard made the study available to SaportaReport so we could release the results in this column.
Among the top findings:
Nearly one in every five directors on Georgia’s public company boards is a woman. Women now represent 19.8 percent of all board seats compared to 17.37 percent in 2019; 15.43 percent in 2018; and 13.8 percent in 2017. In 1993, the first year of the study, women only represented 4 percent of all of Georgia’s board seats.
Another bright spot is the number of public company boards with at least three women. There are now 26 public companies with at least three women board members, up from 18 last year.
The Coca-Cola Co. has five women directors, or 41.7 percent of its board. Aflac has four women (36.4 percent); Atlantic Capital Bancshares Inc. also has four women (44.4 percent) – the highest percentage of any Georgia public company. Carter’s
Inc. has four women (33.3 percent). Intercontinental Exchange Inc. has four women (33.3 percent) as does WestRock (30.8 percent).
The cutoff date of the study was Aug. 21 when Veritiv had three women on its board including its since-departed CEO Mary Laschinger. Because National Vision Holdings added a woman director since that date, the total of number of Georgia public companies with at least three board members remains at 26.
Kelly Gay, chair and CEO of OnBoard, said Georgia’s 19.8 percent of women directors is not far behind California’s 24.4 percent, a state that is mandating greater diversity of its corporate boards.
Also, of California’s 650 public companies, only two have at least five women on their boards – the same number as Georgia, which has only 112 public companies.
Still, Georgia and the nation are a long way from having boards that are reflective of its population by having an equal number of men and women.
“There are so many reasons or parity,” Gay said. “The U.S. population has as many women as men. The reason to do it is because the body of research shows that having women on your board improves a company’s financial performance.”
Lisa Robinson, president of OnBoard, said the Georgia organization is remaining neutral about whether there should be a legal requirement to have diversity on public boards.
“We want to do it before someone forces us to,” Robinson said. “We want to build on our success. It didn’t require someone rapping our knuckles. We are doing it of our own accord because we know it makes sense. It’s great to have success without legislation. If we continue with that, there’s no need for legislation.”
One metric that continues to lag is the percent of women of color on Georgia’s public company boards. Only 3.7 percent of the 889 public board seats in Georgia are held by a woman of color. The 2020 report showed a net gain of 19 women on Georgia’s public company boards, but only one of those women was a woman of color. Still, in 2001, only 11 women of color were sat on Georgia’s public company boards. In 2020, that number had tripled to 33.
OnBoard is committed to moving the needle by ensuring that its programs support racial equity. It also is establishing a fellowship for its OnBoard Accelerator Program, and it is providing membership opportunities to women of color.
“It’s a really hard slow battle. It’s been a focus of ours for a number of years,” said Gay, who added that current environment that has made social justice and racial equity a priority is going to help increase diversity on corporate boards.
“We are not unique in our position of knowing there’s more we can do for racial justice,” Gay said. “Companies can be purposeful in adding more women of color. Each of us can do more than we are to pursue racial equality.”