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ATL Business Chronicle

Women pass major milestone – now on 56 percent of Ga.’s public company boards

By Maria Saporta
Friday, Oct. 14, 2011

A majority of Georgia’s public companies now have at least one woman on their boards, the first time that the percentage has topped 49 percent.

The latest study by the Board of Directors Network, which will be officially released at the organization’s annual meeting on Oct. 20, shows that 56 percent of Georgia’s 136 public companies now have a least one woman director.

Last year, 49 percent of Georgia’s public companies had one or more women on boards (at the time Georgia had 150 public companies), the highest percentage that had ever been reached in the 19 years that BDN has been keeping track. In 1993, the first year that BDN did a study, only 27 percent of Georgia’s public companies had women directors.

That’s not the only milestone that was reached in 2011. Again, for the first time that BDN has been counting, every one of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies now has a woman on its board. The biggest development in the last 12 months among Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies came on July 22, when AGCO Corp. (NYSE: AGCO) added its first woman director, Mallika Srinivasan.

(For the record, the Fortune 500 lists 14 Georgia companies, but BDN does not include First Data Corp. in its study because it’s privately held. First Data has no women directors.)

The good news for diversity on boards doesn’t stop there.

Only six of Georgia’s top 50 public companies do not have a woman on their boards.

BDN had identified seven with no women directors. But on Oct. 7, Aaron’s Inc. (NYSE: AAN) announced it had selected Cynthia Day, the chief operating officer of Citizens Trust Bank, to join its all-male board. Citizens Trust is the largest African-American owned bank in Georgia.

Day recently visited Aaron’s headquarters in Buckhead where she met the company’s only woman officer — Elizabeth “Beth” Gibbs, a vice president and general counsel, who enthusiastically welcomed the company’s new director.

More than 60 percent of Aaron’ customers are female, and Gibbs said it was important to have a woman on the company’s board.

“Having women on boards translates into more revenues for companies because they can help shape strategies for a diverse customer group,” Gibbs said.

Robin Loudermilk, Aaron’s CEO, agreed. “From an employee standpoint, a corporate governance standpoint and a customer standpoint, we really need to have diversity,” Loudermilk said. “We have been male-dominated all these years. In today’s climate you need to be well-represented across all the groups out there.”

Aaron’s did have a woman director from 1995 to 2005 — Ingrid Saunders Jones, a senior vice president of The Coca-Cola Co.

Loudermilk said Day also will fill another important role for Aaron’s by serving on the board’s audit committee. Day has had a 20-year career in banking and finance — coming to Citizens Trust in 2003 after serving as chief operating officer of Citizens Federal Savings Bank of Birmingham, Ala. Day also has degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Alabama.

“The company piqued my interest, and professionally I thought it was a good fit,” Day said.

Now that Aaron’s has a woman director, only six companies in the Top 50 list do not have a woman director —BlueLinx Holdings Inc. (NYSE: BXC), Exide Technologies (Nasdaq: XIDE), Gentiva Health Services Inc. (Nasdaq: GTIV), Georgia Gulf Corp. (NYSE: GGC), Piedmont Office Realty Trust Inc. (NYSE: PDM), and Rollins Inc. (NYSE: ROL).

By comparison, in 2010, 13 of Georgia’s top 50 companies did not have women on their boards.

And one other measure showed significant improvement. Of the 1,116 total board seats on Georgia’s public companies, 107 (or 9.6 percent) were held by women. Previously, the highest percentage of women-held board seats was 8.6 percent, reached in 2010. In 2009, that percentage was 7.6 percent.

“We did have improvement,” said Rona Wells, BDN’s executive director. “We definitely hit a milestone this year.”

Ann-Marie McGaughey, BDN’s president and a partner with law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, said it’s important to remember that more than 90 percent of the board seats are still filled by men.

“We want every company to have at least one woman on the board,” McGaughey said. “Getting women on boards is not a women’s issue. It’s a business issue.”

Also, there are only two of Georgia’s top 50 companies that have more than two women on their boards — Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. (NYSE: CCE) has four and United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) has three.

UPS added a woman director in the past year — Candace Kendle, founder of a global medical research company. Kendle joins Carol Tomé, The Home Depot Inc.’s chief financial officer; and Ann Livermore, who has been an executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard Co.

UPS always considers a diverse pool of candidates when considering new directors and management positions, according to Teri McClure, UPS’ general counsel and corporate secretary, who is one of two women officers at the company.

McClure said that while gender diversity is important, UPS also weighs the professional skills and experience of the its candidates. For example, Kendle helps fill a strategic goal of UPS to target the health-care industry.

There is one area that did not improve: the number and percentage of women executive officers at Georgia’s public companies.

Of the 784 executive officers at Georgia’s public companies, 77 (or 9.8 percent) were women. In 2010, there were 87 women executive officers out of a total of 829 (or 10.5 percent).

“The number of women officers is down, and that’s the pipeline,” McGaughey said.

Another area that BDN tabulates is the number of women of color on Georgia’s corporate boards. Of the 1,116 total board seats, only 2 percent are women of color. But that is up from 1.7 percent in 2010.

Of all of Georgia’s public companies, 13 percent have a woman of color as a director. Of the top 50, that percentage increases to 26 percent. And among Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies, 46 percent have a woman of color on their boards.

After years of seeing flat or only marginal change in the numbers, McGaughey said the 2011 report showed a significant increase in diversity on the boards of Georgia’s public companies. “We are celebrating progress,” she said. “We are celebrating milestones.”

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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