Women losing traction on Georgia’s public company boards

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 7, 2014

After several years of steady gains, the presence of women on the boards of Georgia’s public companies declined in the past year, according the latest annual study by OnBoard, which has been tracking these statistics for more than 20 years.

OnBoard’s study showed that 11.2 percent of all the board seats on Georgia’s public companies are currently held by women, a drop from 11.5 percent in 2013.

The percent of Georgia’s public companies with women on their boards dropped from 59 percent in 2013 to 54 percent this year – meaning 46 percent of the state’s public companies did not have at least one women director.

Women of color, never a major presence on Georgia’s public company boards, also saw their percentage slip – from 1.83 percent to 1.74 percent.

Women on Boards - slipping backwards (Source: OnBoard - 2014 Study)

Women on Boards – slipping backwards (Source: OnBoard – 2014 Study)

And perhaps the most disturbing trend for Rona Wells, executive director for OnBoard, was the dramatic decline in the “fill rate” – the percentage of vacant board seats that were being filled by women directors. That went from 21 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in this year’s study.

“The fill rate is key,” Wells said. “We need to put women in the seats when there are vacancies.”

Only two Georgia companies have more than three women on their boards — Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co., which both have four women directors. Last year, EarthLink Holdings Corp. also had four, but now it has three women directors.

In addition to EarthLink, four other of Georgia’s top 50 public companies have three women on their boards — Primerica Inc., Southern Co., United Parcel Service Inc. and AGL Resources Inc.

“We have tried to highlight companies that have three or four women on their boards,” Wells said. “Studies have shown that that’s when you don’t see fellow directors as women directors. You see beyond gender and diversity. You see the person.”

OnBoard gathers its information from Securities and Exchange Commission filings for all the public companies in Georgia – using information for the company’s last fiscal year. Most of Georgia’s public companies are based on the calendar year. The cut-off date for the information included in the study was Aug. 22, 2014.

Jackie Parker, the current president of OnBoard and a former executive with Newell Rubbermaid Inc., was particularly disappointed with the 2014 study results.

“The headline is that the numbers went down,” Parker said. “We lost traction; and we lost momentum.”

Parker also was concerned that the numbers would continue to get worse because the percentage of seats being filled by women had been sliced almost in half.

“Where there is a vacant seat on a board, it’s drifting back to men,” Parker said. “The one question I have is: ‘Why?’ I keep knocking my head up against the wall. ‘Why?’ It’s perplexing. All the studies show that productivity goes up; earnings increase when there is broad representation on a board. There’s evidence to show this is a sound business strategy.”

But the message may not be getting through to those making the decisions of whom to invite to join a board or maybe companies have not made diversity a priority.

“Some CEOs get it, but here’s a big chunk of CEOs who don’t get it, or who don’t do anything about it,” Parker said. “The question I have is: ‘Are we making the right case? What’s the trigger to get them to shift?'”

OnBoard has been trying a variety of programs to encourage getting more qualified women placed on the boards of Georgia’s public companies. It has held a “Get on Board” reception where executives were asked to bring a “board-ready woman” to come meet executives from other companies.

“We can’t lose the hope,” Parker said. “It’s discouraging, but we have to continue moving forward. We have to continue to fight. It’s a long, historical battle, and nothing is accomplished by giving up. We are just refocusing, re-engaging and making a stronger business case for women on boards.”

One area that did show slight improvement from 2013 to 2014 was in the C-suite of Georgia’s public companies. Women executive officers – those listed in the company proxy – went from 9.8 percent to 10.4 percent.

Two of the top 50 public companies in Georgia had three women listed as executive officers — Coca-Cola Enterprises and Flowers Foods Inc.

There were two Georgia companies in the top 50 that had zero women on their boards and no women in their C-suites. Those were Rollins Inc. and FleetCor Technologies Inc.

Looking ahead, Wells said, Georgia may have a few new Fortune 500 companies with relatively good stories to tell.

AGL Resources is likely to make it into the next Fortune 500 list based on its 2014 revenues for the first three quarters. As already mentioned, AGL has three women directors. It also has one woman executive officer.

Homebuilder PulteGroup Inc., which has moved its corporate headquarters to Atlanta, also has two women on its board. But it has no women in its C-suite.

Perhaps the most exciting new addition in Atlanta is one of the least known — Veritiv Corp., a spin-off from International Paper that merged with a similar business owned by Unisource Worldwide Inc. The new company, Veritiv, began operating this summer and established its headquarters in Atlanta. Mary Laschinger is chairman and CEO of Veritiv Corp.

Once it has been in business long enough to qualify for the Fortune 500 list of companies, it is possible that Veritiv would be added to the ranks of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies based on estimated annual revenues of more than $5.2 billion. That would mean that at least one of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies would have a woman CEO.

Laschinger emerging on the Atlanta scene could help take out some of the sting that many women felt when Carol Tomé, the chief financial officer at The Home Depot Inc., was not selected to be the next CEO of the home improvement company.

Tomé was one of three internal candidates considered for the job. Marvin Ellison, an African American, another candidate who did not get to succeed CEO Frank Blake, has since left the company to become CEO of J.C. Penney. The job ended up going to Craig Menear, a veteran in the retail and merchandising side of the business.

Both Parker and Wells said the big challenge will be getting more women to be promoted to positions where they can become CEOs and directors of the major companies in Georgia and the United States. That way, when one woman does not get the top job, it won’t be as much of a disappointment because other women will be in the mix.

But Parker acknowledged that there is still a long way to go before Georgia reaches her ideal of how corporate American should work.

“My hope and dream is that CEOs, boards and chairmen would sit together in a room and talk about inclusion; that they would ask: ‘Who is missing around this table?'” Parker said. “Let’s shift away from the discussion of diversity, and let’s talk about inclusion.”

In the Numbers:

54%– of Georgia’s 136 public companies have one or more women on their boards of directors.

88%– of state’s Top 50 companies (ranked by revenue) have women on their boards

83%– of Georgia-based Fortune 500 companies have more than one woman director.

10.4%– Number of women executive officers in Georgia public companies, up from 9.8% in 2013.

More in the Numbers:

  • 18 Georgia public companies are Fortune 500, and all have at least one women director. In this group, women hold 19% of the total director positions.
  • Of the 515 director seats in the Georgia Top 50, women hold 77 or 15%. This is up from 14.4% in 2013, 13.3% in 2012, and 12.4% in 2011.
  • 13 (or 9.6%) of Georgia public companies have women of color on their boards as compared to 12% in 2013, 11.5% in 2012, and 13% in 2011.
  • Women of color hold 1.7% of the 1,033 board seats in Georgia. Since OnBoard started tracking this trend in 2001, the percentage was about 1% until 2009 when it jumped to 1.5%, then rose slightly to 1.7% in 2010 and peaked in 2011 at 2%.

Work Still to be Done

  • The numbers have stalled this year with men still holding 89% of the board seats and only 12% of the 67 opportunities to add a woman were utilized.
  • Only 40% of public companies in Georgia have women executive officers listed in the companies’ SEC filings, a number that has not moved substantially in the last three years.
  • Women of color have never held more than 2% of all board seats since 2003 when OnBoard began reporting this statistic.

ABOUT THE OnBoard STUDY: Information is derived from Form 10-K or proxy filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission for the most recent filing as of the data cutoff date of 8/22/14.

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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