By Geoffrey Smith
June 20, 2017

Good morning.

The march of gender equality in the boardroom took a detour last year.

The share of women among newly-appointed members to the boards of Fortune 500 companies fell for the first time in seven years, according to a new report from consultancy Heidrick and Struggles. Women accounted for only 27.8% of all new board members last year, down by two percentage points from 2015. One crumb of comfort is that the tech sector appears to have taken past criticism on board, raising the share of female appointees to 40% from 26.5% in a single year.

As Fortune’s Claire Zillman points out in this post, the setback for women wasn’t caused by lack of opportunity. There were 421 seats vacated or created last year, more than at any time since Board Monitor started keeping score in 2009. That number is steadily increasing over time, according to Heidrick’s Bonnie Gwin, creating plenty of opportunity to make the board look more like the population at large.

Heidrick didn’t speculate on the reasons for this development, and we’d be interested to hear your feedback on why this might be the case. Is there really a shortage of qualified female candidates? Is it tied somehow to the growing influence of activist investors (the evidence suggests that they disproportionately target companies led by female CEOs, but how do their own board nominees look?)?

Or is it somehow that companies think it’s enough to pay more attention to other parts of the diversity and inclusion matrix? The advance of ethnic minorities in the boardroom hasn’t been as constant as that of women, but it rose sharply to 22.1% of all appointments from 18.1% in 2015. Among the more encouraging data points is one showing that 6.4% of new directors appointed were Hispanic—the highest ever recorded, even if it’s still some way short of the actual share of Hispanics in the American population. African-Americans and Asian-American, at 9.3% and 6.4% of appointees, are likewise still under-represented.

News below.

Finally, I mis-spelled Safra Catz’s name yesterday. Apologies to her and to you for that. My record with such typos allows me to refute all suggestions of gender bias categorically.


Geoffrey Smith

(Alan Murray is taking a hard-earned break and will return on Monday.)




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