Mary­land’s board­rooms need more women; new law helps

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD -

Mary­land cor­po­ra­tions and large non­prof­its be­ware: The Ex­ec­u­tive Al­liance will soon be knock­ing on your door.

The group, which dubs it­self a cat­a­lyst for women lead­ers in Mary­land, will soon be­gin a cam­paign to try to sway com­pa­nies and large non­prof­its to in­crease gen­der di­ver­sity on its board. The goal: for boards in Mary­land to be com­posed of 30% women by 2023.

De­spite its po­si­tion as one of the more pros­per­ous and highly ed­u­cated states in the coun­try, Mary­land has failed at mak­ing sure women are ad­e­quately rep­re­sented in the rooms where im­por­tant de­ci­sions are made. The old boys’ network of power is still alive and well in Mary­land.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Al­liance re­ported in a 2018 cen­sus that women held 16.8% of board seats at pub­licly traded com­pa­nies. The na­tional av­er­age is 22.5%.

To make mat­ters worse, 70 pub­licly traded com­pa­nies in Mary­land had no women in ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions, 15 had no women on the board of di­rec­tors and six had none on their boards or in ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions. The num­bers are even more de­press­ing for African Amer­i­can, Lat­inx and Asian women, who are pretty near in­vis­i­ble in board rooms.

Com­pa­nies and large non­prof­its will be put on blast un­der a new law that went into ef­fect in Oc­to­ber; it re­quires dis­clo­sure of their board makeup to the Mary­land Depart­ment of As­sess­ments and Tax­a­tion. They have un­til tax day, April 15, to com­ply.

The law can’t force the hand of these com­pa­nies, but we hope a lit­tle em­bar­rass­ment and pub­lic sham­ing will prod them to change their ways. The state comp­trol­ler’s of­fice will com­pile a report of all the in­for­ma­tion for any­one to see.

This won’t be enough for ev­ery com­pany to get on board. And we might even hear the tired ex­cuse of the small tal­ent pool, that there just aren’t enough qual­i­fied peo­ple. It will take more than a report with num­bers to change the ways of some or­ga­ni­za­tions. A cul­tural shift will have to take place — and women can play a role in mak­ing that hap­pen.

As an ex­am­ple, women can look to Va­lerie Jar­rett, the former se­nior ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent for pub­lic en­gage­ment and in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs from 2009 to 2017. She talked about her ex­pe­ri­ences serv­ing on boards as part of her keynote ad­dress at a re­cent Ex­ec­u­tive Al­liance lun­cheon at­tended by more than 1,000 women. An at­tor­ney, she once worked with helped her make her first jump to the board room.

Her ad­vice:

1. Put your­self in the right cir­cles. “Peo­ple pick peo­ple they know. We have to be that per­son.”

2. Once you are on board, cre­ate the path for oth­ers. “There are safety in num­bers. We have to open those boards for oth­ers. We can’t be afraid to push for it.”

3. Use al­lies whomight not look like you. “I would go to the old white guys… They had more power.”

4. Ad­vo­cate for your­self, but in an or­ganic way. Don’t walk up to some­body and say, “Will you put me on a board.”

5. Prove your­self in ar­eas com­pa­nies care about, such as fi­nance and pro­cure­ment. Then push for ar­eas you care about, such as di­ver­sity.

6. Once on a board don’t be afraid to speak up, and no ques­tion is dumb. Ms. Jar­rett said that even in the White House women felt their voices were “shrink­ing.” They formed an in­for­mal sup­port group to pull each other up.

Women aren’t the only ones who ben­e­fit when they are at the ta­ble. Di­verse lead­er­ship makes for bet­ter com­pa­nies too.

Re­search has found com­pa­nies with more women on board re­ported bet­ter fi­nan­cial results on av­er­age than oth­ers and car­ried less debt. Com­pa­nies with women board mem­bers tend to out­per­form oth­ers dur­ing a re­ces­sion. Women also bring dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to the room. Doesn’t Mary­land want its com­pa­nies to per­form at their best and to be able to at­tract the best tal­ent with the most in­no­va­tive ideas?

Mary­land com­pa­nies and non­prof­its can do bet­ter. The new re­port­ing re­quire­ment is a good step in mak­ing that hap­pen. We hope com­pa­nies won’t need the sham­ing to change the make up of their boards and put re­cruit­ment plans in place.

We also hope the ini­tia­tive em­bold­ens women to see they have a right to a board seat as much as any man. In the words of Ms. Jar­rett: “When you put your­self in the path of lightning, some­times you get great.”


Mary­land com­pa­nies need to re­cruit more women to their boards.

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