In a review conducted by The Washington Times, the top 20 U.S. Fortune 500 companies have 255 people on their corporate boards. Of that total, exactly 20 percent, or 51, are women.
The review found some surprising outliers. A group of companies such as Starbucks that appeal to a younger, supposedly more liberal customer base have an average of 16.3 percent female boardroom representation. Social media giant Facebook, preparing for its first public sale of stock this year, has come under fire for having not a single woman on its board.
Some companies whose target markets are heavily skewed toward women have made it a priority to display a pronounced female presence at the top.
Avon Products Inc., which sells makeup and other products for women, has intentionally sought out women for its board. At 50 percent, Avon’s board has the highest female representation of any Fortune 500 company.
Company spokeswoman Jennifer Vargas said Avon believes that proper representation of women at all levels of operation is important because women represent the company’s target market. In addition, Avon believes that having a “diverse perspective makes better management and that women are the start of that,” Ms. Vargas said.
The company made news again on the gender front with the appointment of longtime Johnson & Johnson executive Sheri McCoy to be the chief executive officer - the first woman to hold the post in the company’s 126-year history.
Macy’s Inc. also has a high percentage of female executives, with four women on the 10-member board. Spokesman Jim Sluzewski said the emphasis is intentional because company officials want the board to reflect their workforce and their customers.
“It’s actually pretty natural for us to have a large representation of women on the board,” said Mr. Sluzewski, who has been with the company for almost 30 years. “We’ve always had women on the board. I think we have a higher proportion now than we ever have before, but we certainly have for many decades.”
An unsettled debate
What impact the gender makeup of a corporate board has on the bottom line has been a subject of dispute, and scholars haven’t pinpointed how much active discrimination keeps women out of the boardroom.
“I think there are big cracks in the glass ceiling,” said Louis Galambos, professor of economics and history at Johns Hopkins University. “I think you’re seeing women who make it and don’t make it, but it’s not on the basis of gender - it’s on the basis of the firm’s performance.”
Kenneth Ahern, professor of economics at the University of Michigan, said the gender quotas may be working in terms of putting greater numbers of women in reserved corporate board slots, but not in terms of making money for those companies.
In a study he published last year, he concluded that when a gender quota is imposed on a company, its stock price drops and its operating performance deteriorates.
“Going into [the study], there was an argument that, by increasing the gender balance, that maybe it would make boards operate better,” said Mr. Ahern. “But the results of our paper don’t support that view.”View Entire Story
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