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Women making great strides among Georgia’s public companies

Kelly Gay, OnBoard's chair, with Lisa Robinson, OnBoard's president (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

What a year of improvement.

The number of women on the boards of Georgia’s 119 public companies increased dramatically over the past year, according to the 2021 OnBoard study of women on corporate boards and those serving in executive roles.

Take UPS. It is the first public company in Georgia to have six women directors, which includes its CEO – Carol Tomé.

Pictures of all of the directors on the board of UPS, probably the most diverse board in Georgia. (Special: UPS.)

“The story of diversity, equity and inclusion at UPS is best understood through the lens of our people,” said Deisha Barnett, a UPS spokeswoman. “Our board of directors models our commitment to inclusion with 31 percent ethnically diverse members and 46 percent women. And, we are proud that our company is led by one of the few women CEOs in the Fortune 500 ranks, Carol B. Tomé.”

The sixth woman to join the UPS board was Eva Boratto, chief financial officer and executive vice president of CVS Health. She was appointed to the board in September 2020.

Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, added a woman to its board in the past year – and it now has a total of five women directors. It joins the Coca-Cola Co., which was the first public company in Georgia to have five women directors.

“Through every measure we look at, this year set records for women on boards, for women of color on boards as well as women executive officers,” said Lisa Robinson, president of Atlanta-based OnBoard. “We have never seen as dramatic an increase as we saw this past year.”

OnBoard started tracking women on boards and in C-suites back in 1993. For many years, the numbers were relatively flat or only showed incremental progress. The pace of have more women directors and officers has really accelerated in the past few years.

Kelly Gay, OnBoard’s chair, with Lisa Robinson, OnBoard’s president. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Take Georgia’s public companies with three or more women directors. Today, there are 33 companies who are called “Power of Three” companies. Evidence has shown that women are taken more seriously when there are at least three women sitting around a board table. In 2012, only three public companies in Georgia had three or more women on their boards.

“The power of three doubled in the past three years,” said Kelly Gay, who chairs OnBoard. “This is huge for Georgia’s public companies.”

And that is smart for business. “Companies with diverse boards performed better than their peers during COVID, according to a national study by McKinsey,” Gay added. “It is a moment of recognition by corporate leaders of the value women bring to their organizations, and the results they are able to achieve.”

It’s important to note that women make up at least half of the population. No public company in Georgia has a corporate board with 50 percent of its directors as women. The closest is UPS with 46 percent.

The 2021 study will be publicly released on Thursday, Nov. 18 at OnBoard’s annual dinner at the Gathering Spot. Duriya Farooqui, a director on Intercontinental Exchange, will receive the prestigious Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans award for an outstanding woman corporate board member. Also, Susan Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, will be the keynote speaker.

Other highlights of the 2021 study include:

  • Women hold 211 board seats at Georgia’s public companies – up 35 over last year, an increase of 22 percent.
  • There has been a 42 percent increase in the number of board seats held by women of color to a total of 47. But women of color still make up less than 5 percent of all the board seats statewide.
  • Of the 88 board seats that were filled in 12 months covered by the study 37.5 percent were filled with women.
  • The number of female executive officers jumped by 20 to 124, after being stagnant for a number of years.
  • All of the top 50 Georgia public companies (by revenue) have a woman on their boards. And 84 percent have two or more women on their board.

When asked why there was so much of an increase this past year, Robinson mentioned both the COVID-19 pandemic and the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, especially after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.

“As a result of the last year and a half, there has been a positive outcome,” Robinson said. “In this past year-and-a-half of turmoil, leaders have had to look inward and reflect on their own boards and corporate suites. They have been pleasantly surprised by the talent that is readily available.”

Georgia’s 18 Fortune 500 companies are leading the way when it comes to diversity, according to Rona Wells, who chairs the annual OnBoard study. The 2021 study did not include Norfolk Southern – Atlanta’s newest Fortune 500 company, because its headquarters were still listed as being in Norfolk, Va., according to SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) filings at the cutoff time for the study.

Rona Wells, chair of the annual OnBoard study. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“Norfolk Southern will be in next year’s study,” Wells said.

The study also shows there are 19 public companies in Georgia without a woman on their boards. (See chart below).

But overall, it’s good news.

Robinson said Georgia’s public companies are performing well when it comes to women on boards and in the executive ranks.

“We all are celebrating,” Robinson said. “All of our partners and our power of three companies are blazing the trail and making Georgia look good.”

Georgia’s Public Companies with no women directors:
Janus International Group Inc.
GreenSky Inc.
Ciner Resources LP
Williams Industrial Services Group Inc.
Alimera Sciences Inc.
SunLink Health Systems Inc.
Affinity Bancshares Inc.
Sonoma Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Luvu Brands Inc.
Regional Health Properties Inc.
Aeon Global Health Corp.
Parks! America Inc.
UC Asset LP
Mastermind Inc.
GeoVax Labs
Sanuwave Health Inc.
Guided Therapeutivs
Aureus Inc.
Virios Therapeutics Inc.

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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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