By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, November 9, 2012
A glass ceiling has been broken by women serving on the boards of Georgia’s public companies.
For the first time ever, more than 10 percent of all the board seats at the companies are held by women. That translates to 106 of the 1,017 total board seats — or 10.4 percent. In 2011, it was 9.6 percent. By comparison, in 2001 that percentage was only 5.5 percent.
The annual study, conducted by the Board of Directors Network, will be released at a dinner Nov. 13 at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel. The organization will celebrate the 20 years that it has been doing the study that keeps tabs of the number of women directors serving on the boards of Georgia’s public companies.
“We have gotten into the double digits,” said a pleased Constance Dierickx, 2012 president of the Board of Directors Network. Dierickx owns CD Consulting, a management consulting firm.
The 2012 study also had other highlights.
Georgia today has 130 public companies — the lowest number since BDN has been doing the study. Of those, 55 percent have at least one woman on their boards.
The larger the company, the better that percentage. Of the top 50 companies, 84 percent have women directors.
And all 14 of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies have at least one woman on their boards.
The percentage of companies with more than one woman on their boards has also improved to 23 percent. Among the top 50 companies, 44 percent have more than one woman. And 86 percent of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies have multiple women on their boards.
The most notable companies are Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., with four women directors; and United Parcel Service Inc. and AGL Resources Inc., each of which has three women on its board.
Rona Wells, BDN’s executive director, said there was another encouraging trend. A total of 58 new directors were added to the boards of the state’s public companies in the past year, and 21 percent of those were filled by women — the highest percentage ever.
For years, that number hovered around 9 percent or10 percent, but in the last two years that jumped from 15 percent to 16 percent and now 21 percent.
“There seems like there’s some momentum,” Wells said. “The fill-in rate is a good indicator. It seems like the message is that it’s nice to have one woman, but having more than one is better.”
In 2001, of all the public companies in the state, only 8 percent had more than one woman director. Now it’s 23 percent. “The percentage has nearly tripled,” Wells said.
One such company is Aarons Inc. It has gone from not having any woman on its board for several years to adding two women on its board in just the past year — Cynthia Day, the CEO of Citizens Trust Bank; and Kathy Betty, the former owner of the Atlanta Dream — the professional women’s basketball team.
“Accepting a position on the board not only helps me and hopefully the company, it may also encourage other companies to have more women on their boards,” Betty said. “My passion is to have more women in leadership positions. It’s critical for women to step up besides men in leadership roles.”
Not all the news was as good. Two numbers have remained relatively static — the percentage of women of color serving on Georgia’s public company boards and the percentage of women serving in executive positions according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
“It seems as though there is more intention in getting diversity on boards,” Dierickx said. “There has been no significant change in the executive ranks.”
Women currently hold 9.9 percent (73) of the 735 executive officer positions listed in the SEC filings. Since BDN started counting the percentage of women officers in 1998, the percentage has ranged from 7 percent to 10.5 percent.
“The number of officers has been declining,” Wells said. “We have stayed in the 9 to 10 percent range since 2006.”
Women of color held 1.7 percent of the 1,017 board seats on Georgia’s public companies. BDN has been following that statistic since 2003. The percentage of women of color serving on Georgia’s board hit a high of 2 percent in 2011, but that percentage has fallen in the past year.
Wells said it just shows that there is more work to be done. More than half of Georgia’s public companies have no women officers listed in SEC filings.
As a way to improve the percentage of women participation on boards and in executive positions, Betty provided some advice to other women.
“When the opportunity comes along, it’s very important to take advantage of it,” Betty said. “There should be no excuses. It’s our game to play. And we have got to stand up and lead.”