Few women sit on public companies' boards

Few women sit on public companies' boards

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The challenges facing women interested in securing a board seat raise the question: How do the men who are making the decisions about corporate strategy, oversight and director positions in Oregon view the issue? Several board leaders, including Patrick Jones, chair of Lattice Semiconductor, and Kurt Widmer, chair of Craft Brewers Alliance, declined to be interviewed for this article. Mentor Graphics, which has an all-male board, also turned down requests for interviews. Other men were more forthcoming, echoing the arguments of female board members regarding the challenges and benefits of putting more women on boards.

“We’re always on the outlook for candidates who will diversify the board,” says Don Graber, chair of Precision Castparts’ eight-member, all-male board of directors. “But we also look for people who have a manufacturing-type background and females are tough to find.”

Columbia Sportswear, one of the seven public companies with two women on its board, “has made great strides in revitalizing its brand,” says Steve Babson, chair of the board’s nominating committee. “That’s attributable to key people in the company, many of whom are women.”

To be sure, many Oregon companies are concentrated in the wood products, manufacturing and other traditionally male-dominated industries. But the list of Oregon public companies without any women on their boards — a list that includes FLIR, Electro Scientific Industries, Premier West Bank, and LaCrosse Footwear — transcends any individual sector. There is no research about gender and financial performance in Oregon.  However, a growing number of studies in Europe show that companies with more female board members outperform those with fewer women, regardless of the type of industry. That research includes a 2007 Finnish study and an analysis of European listed companies conducted by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, both of which found a correlation between the percentage of female board members and improved corporate financial performance.

Decades after the women’s movement and countless women-in-business diversity initiatives, many business leaders agree on the economic and social justice value of increasing women in the boardroom. What still isn’t clear is how to make it happen.

In Europe, policy makers have decided the only solution is regulation. In 2003, Norway was the first country to establish a 40% quota of women on boards, followed by Spain in 2007 and Iceland, which implemented quotas last year. In January, France passed a law requiring that by 2017, women must represent 40% of board members on the largest publicly traded companies. The U.K. is also considering quotas.