BDN Report: Women making progress on boards of Georgia’s public companies

By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 15, 2010

After years of marginal progress, women finally are gaining more of a presence on the boards of Georgia’s public companies.

For the first time ever, women hold more than 8 percent of all the board seats on Georgia’s 150 public companies. Specifically, women represent 8.6 percent of the 1,207 total board seats. Last year, they held 7.6 percent of all board seats, the previous high-water mark.

By comparison, in 1995, women held 3.8 percent of the board seats on Georgia’s public companies.

The progress has been tracked by the Board of Directors Network (BDN), a Georgia-based nonprofit research and advisory organization that seeks to increase the number of women on corporate boards and in executive leadership.

BDN will release its full 2010 study at its annual dinner meeting Oct. 20 at the Hotel Palomar. The keynote speaker will be John Brock, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. CCE added two women to its board in the past year for a total of four. That means that one-third of its 12-member board is now represented by women.

And CCE is not the only Georgia public company with four women on its board. Touchmark Bancshares Inc. added one woman director in the past year to give it four. One of those four directors is the bank’s president and CEO, Pin Pin Chau.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had four women on a public board in Georgia,” said Rona Wells, BDN’s executive director. She looked back through BDN’s files back to 1998 to find that the last company with four women directors was Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., which had a total of 21 directors.

And as far as she can tell, it’s the first time there have been two public companies in Georgia with four women directors.

“This report does show some progress,” said Ann-Marie McGaughey, 2010 president of BDN and a partner with law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. “When you dig into the numbers, different areas that we have tracked are higher.”

Another area of progress was among Georgia’s top 50 public companies, where 74 percent now have at least one woman on their boards. That also is a high-water mark. The previous high percentage was 72 percent in 2008.

Among Georgia’s 13 companies listed in the 2010 Fortune 500 list, 12 have women directors. As in previous years, the only one without a woman director is AGCO Corp. (NYSE: AG), a manufacturer of farm equipment.

There also is a higher percentage of women of color who serve on the boards of Georgia’s public companies.

Of the 1,207 total board seats, women hold 1.7 percent.

That percentage had been hovering around 1 percent until 2009 when it increased to 1.5 percent.

Despite their better numbers in the 2010 report, McGaughey said there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“If we go at the pace that we are going,” she said, “it could take us decades before we have boards that reflect the role of women in society and in the economy.”

In raw numbers, Georgia today has fewer public companies due primarily to mergers and acquisitions. Back in 2000, there were 239 compared with 150 in 2010. In 2009, there were 160 public companies.

Wells said that it is especially significant that of the constant group of 140 companies that are in both the 2009 and 2010 surveys, 66 of the new board seats (or 15 percent) were filled by women.

BDN only started tracking the number of new board seats among the constant companies in 2004, and “it’s never been at more than 10 percent,” she said.

“We didn’t lose any women directors among those companies,” said Wells, who found that percentage particularly encouraging. “Those are the most stable companies. We won’t make much movement until this number gets big.”

Still, Wells said it is sobering to note that only 49 percent of Georgia’s public companies — 74 out of 150 — have women on their board.

“There’s progress, but we are still at 51 percent of the public companies in Georgia that don’t have any women on their boards,” Wells said. “We would love to help them change that.”

In recent years, BDN has been offering its services to companies seeking qualified women to serve on their boards.

Another area of improvement has been in the percentage of women who hold “C-suite” positions at Georgia’s public companies. BDN monitors the number or women who serve as chair, CEO, chief financial officer, chief information officer and general counsel.

Of the 829 executive officer positions listed in the Securities and Exchange Commission filings, 87 are held by women — which translates into 10.5 percent. The previous high percent of women executives at Georgia companies was 10 percent.

“We want to get beyond tokenism of just having one woman on a board,” McGaughey said. “You have got to have critical mass.”

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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