With many women still not returning to work after Covid-19 lockdowns and many of them still reporting high numbers of burnout, it can be difficult to find reasons to be optimistic about the state of women in business. But here’s one:A recent report from the Women Business Collaborative (WBC) and 50-50 Women on Boards found that 2021 was a “watershed year” for women on corporate boards, with the largest ever year-over-year increase in board seats held by women among companies in the Russell 3000, an index of the 3,000 largest publicly held companies incorporated in America.
According to the report, which was released earlier this month, women held 27 percent of board seats at companies on the Russell 3,000 in 2021, up from 24 percent in 2020. Another sign of progress, according to the report: Black board membership increased 32 percent.
Here are a few other takeaways from the report.
Private companies fall behind public companies on gender diversity. According to the report, 86 percent of board director seats at private companies are held by men, and 56 percent of early-stage private companies had no woman directors.
To get more women on boards, it’s helpful to have a woman CEO. The average percentage of women on boards of companies with a female CEO is 39 percent, while it is 26 percent for companies with a male CEO, according to data analyzed by 50/50 Women on Boards in the report.
Female board chairs help, too. According to a survey by the Lodis Group, which is included in the report, women board chairs have a significant impact on boards’ gender diversity. The survey found that boards with a woman chair had 42 percent women directors, compared to 24 percent on boards with a man chair. “Some of the decisions that get made about the board of directors will be more diverse … because if women [board chairs] have women networks, they can say, ‘Oh, I know a woman here,’” Gwen Young, COO of WBC, told me. And there will be benefits not only to downstream diversity, she says, but also to the company’s bottom line. “There is evidence that when you have more diversity in company leadership, profits will grow, and that’s the same for having women on the board,” she said.
Independent director seats could be a way to increase women’s representation on boards. Women make up only 14.2 percent of board director seats at private companies, the report by Bolster found, but women were three times as likely to hold seats as independent directors, those who are not typically investors or employees at the company. “That’s a great steppingstone to becoming a more powerful director,” Young said. “A lot of boards will say, ‘We need someone who has run a company,’ … and a lot of people might not have had that experience. Those people can come in as an independent director and move around a bit.”
There is still work to be done on racial diversity — particularly with Latina representation. Latinas held only 1 percent of all Fortune 500 board seats in 2020, despite making up 10 percent of the U.S. population, making them the lowest-represented group on boards. Latinas held 59 seats, while white women held 1,226, Black women held 183, and Asian women held 89.
So far, laws to increase gender diversity on boards have not always boosted Latina representation: In 2018, California enacted SB 826, which required at least one woman on the boards of companies based in the state, and the law resulted in no increase in Latina representation, according to the report.
Laws requiring more gender diversity help. I asked Young if the handful of laws requiring more women on boards has anything to do with the increases in diversity that are measured in this report. “It absolutely does,” she said. “Evidence shows time and time again those affirmative measures … will create that cultural shift.”
“McDaniel considers staying on as RNC chair through 2024,” by Alex Isenstadt for POLITICO: “Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is considering running for reelection for a fourth term leading her party in 2023, and she has received encouragement from former President Donald Trump, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
“McDaniel met with Trump recently to discuss the possibility of staying on another two years after her current term ends following the midterm elections. McDaniel, who has also received encouragement from some committee members, has told people that she is inclined to run again if the party fares well in the election.
“It’s a turnabout for McDaniel, who privately told RNC members in 2020 that she was planning for this to be her final two-year term as chair. But Trump appeared to hint at his support for McDaniel in a video played for RNC members gathered for the committee’s annual spring meeting in Memphis. The former president lavished praise on McDaniel for doing a ‘tremendous job’ and said that ‘conservatives are united’ behind her.
“Should McDaniel serve another term, she would become the longest serving RNC chair in recent history.”
“EMILY’s List poll: Progressive candidate opens big lead in Pennsylvania House primary,” by Ally Mutnick for POLITICO: “Progressives are finding themselves in an unusual position in the primary for an open blue seat near Pittsburgh, according to a new survey from an allied group: backing the frontrunner.
“State Rep. Summer Lee, whose endorsements include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has a commanding 25-point lead in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), according to a new poll commissioned by EMILY’s List, which is backing Lee.
“Her dominance is a reminder that open-seat races — where longtime Democratic incumbents retired or redistricting forged a new seat — represent a fruitful opportunity for the left, which is trying to grow its ranks after a disappointing slew of losses in 2021.”
“Hochul faces tough choices after Lt. Gov. Benjamin’s arrest and resignation in New York,” by Bill Mahoney and Anna Gronewold for POLITICO: “Nobody in modern New York history has been more vocal a champion of the often-obscure office of lieutenant governor than Kathy Hochul, who served seven years in that post before she was elevated to the governorship last August.
“Now the job has become a political albatross for Hochul. The person she wound up picking for that role — then state Sen. Brian Benjamin — has been indicted in an alleged bribery scheme. On Tuesday, he was arrested and arraigned in federal court in Manhattan. By the end of the day, he announced he had resigned to focus on ‘explaining in court why his actions were laudable — not criminal.’
“The high-profile case puts Hochul in a difficult position as she seeks a full term this year while tethered to Benjamin. While Benjamin is out of office, Hochul could be forced to maintain political ties to Benjamin through the June primary election — and maybe run on the same ticket in November should he win the Democratic nomination and turn down options for bowing out of the race. …
“Hochul has not been tied to the allegations. The charges involve discretionary money Benjamin distributed as a state senator, and the indictment alleges he lied when the governor was screening him for his position. But Hochul’s opponents were quick to seize on Benjamin’s arrest as they both will appear separately on the June 28 primary ballot. Lieutenant governors and governors run separately in a New York primary, but as a ticket in November general elections.”
“A call, a text, an apology: How an abortion arrest shook up a Texas town,” by Caroline Kitchener, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites in the Washington Post: “Calixtro Villarreal’s phone rang Saturday afternoon, about 48 hours after his client, Lizelle Herrera, was arrested and charged with murder — over what local authorities alleged was a ‘self-induced abortion.’
“It was Gocha Ramirez, the district attorney in Starr County, Tex., a remote area on the border with Mexico. Herrera should never have been charged, Ramirez told the lawyer, according to a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private interactions. …
“Ramirez moved to drop all the charges Sunday. He did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Herrera. Villarreal declined to comment multiple times.
“Abortion rights advocates in Texas and across the country seized on Herrera’s arrest soon after she was taken into custody Thursday, concerned that it might be connected to a new Texas law banning most abortions and, worse, pointed to an ominous future in which seeking to terminate a pregnancy is treated as a crime.
“However, interviews with several people in the South Texas community closely following the situation, as well as statements from leaders in the Texas antiabortion movement, suggest this was not part of a broader antiabortion strategy, but instead a hasty error by a first-term Democratic district attorney. Herrera’s husband — who filed for divorce on the same day as her arrest — is being represented by a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest.”
“Mississippi’s equal pay bill could worsen the wage gap, critics say,” by Anne Branigin for the Washington Post: “For the last three years, Mississippi stood alone as the only state in the country that did not have a bill requiring employers to pay workers of all genders the same wages for the same job. That could soon change.
“Late last month, the Mississippi legislature passed an equal pay bill for the first time in its history. It now awaits Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’s signature. Prominent female lawmakers in the state have praised the bill as a historic step that will help Mississippi close one of the worst pay gaps in the nation. … But some women’s rights advocates say Mississippi’s bill could be worse than having no equal pay law at all.
“‘The bill actually harms the equal pay cause by providing much fewer protections than the current federal law does,’ said Shannon Williams, director of Equal Pay Today, a campaign led by the women’s advocacy group Equal Rights Advocates. Williams said it would write into law some of the very practices that perpetuate pay discrimination. ‘I don’t know why we’re calling it an equal pay bill,’ she said. ‘It actually gives employers more excuses to get away with paying women less.’”
“Of the 200 statues at the U.S. Capitol, 14 are of women. RBG and Sandra Day O’Connor will soon join the ranks,” by Mariel Padilla for The 19th: “Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the first women to sit on the highest court in the country — are joining the relatively short list of women memorialized as sculptures at the U.S. Capitol. Bipartisan legislation to add statues of the two Supreme Court justices to the Capitol was spearheaded by women lawmakers, passed the Senate last December, passed the House at the end of March and signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
“‘Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor were trailblazers long before reaching the Supreme Court, opening doors for women at a time when so many insisted on keeping them closed,’ Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democrat who introduced the legislation, told The 19th, after the bill was signed. ‘The Capitol is our most recognizable symbol of democracy, a place where people from across our country have their voices represented and heard. It is only fitting that we honor their remarkable lives and service to our country by establishing statues in the Capitol.’ … As it stands, only 14 of the more than 200 statues on the Capitol grounds are women, she added.”