Few women sit on public companies' boards

Few women sit on public companies' boards

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Judith Johansen, president of Marylhurst University, serves on the boards of four companies, including the Idaho Power Company and Roseburg Forest Products.
// Photo by Matthew D'Annunzio
Gender disparity in the boardroom is an issue that extends far beyond the Oregon border. Nationwide, only 15% of board members in Fortune 500 companies are women. In the European Union, 9.7% of board members in the top 300 companies are women. Women make up about 12.5% of directors at the 100 largest publicly traded companies in the U.K., and many companies have never had a woman on the board.

Concerns about board diversity are also unfolding at a time when the responsibilities of directors are becoming more demanding. Corporate cataclysms ranging from the collapse of Enron to the 2008 financial crisis have increased pressure on boards to hold CEOs accountable to shareholders, business experts say.

“Regulation has gone through the roof,” says Dyess, referring to the hundreds of pages of quarterly and annual reports she is responsible for. “Particularly in today’s world, you’re putting yourself on the line.”

The pressures of the job are making it more difficult to find male or female candidates willing to serve. But heightened board scrutiny is just one of many reasons why so few women serve on corporate boards, Dyess and other female board members say. “The problem is there is not a pipeline of women who are coming up and making it into the C-suite: CEOs or CFOs,” says Judith Johansen, president of Marylhurst University and a director on Schnitzer Steel’s and Bank of Cascades’ boards. Johansen, a former president and CEO of PacificCorp, adds that boards prefer CEOs as directors because they know what it’s like to be in the CEO’s chair.

“Having senior experience with your own boards raises the bar in terms of board performance,” she says.