California likes to think it’s ahead of the curve. But there’s at least one area in which the Golden State, despite the hotbed of innovation that is Silicon Valley, is at least as stodgy as its peers in the rest of the country: the number of women that serve on the boards of directors of its public companies.
A full quarter – 101 — of the 400 largest public companies headquartered in the state currently have no women on their boards of directors, according to a recent study from University of California-Davis and Watermark, a not-for-profit that advocates for women in the workforce. The companies with all male boards of directors include Callaway Golf (ELY), Monster Beverage (MNST), Cheesecake Factory, Demand Media (DMD), and TiVo(TIVO).
Overall, women hold 12.4 percent of the 3,240 director seats at California’s largest companies.
This is a slight uptick from 2006, when women held just 8.8 percent of board seats at this same group of companies. Most of the increase, however, happened in just the past two years.
“Progress is slow, but I do interpret the small upturn we’ve had in the past two years as a sign of progress,” says Ann Stevens, dean of the graduate school of business at UC-Davis, and an author of the study. “There was such a long time without progress, when nothing was happening. It’s a sign to me that this conversation is staying open and people are thinking about this.”
Nationally, 16.9 percent of board seats are held by women, according to Catalyst, a not-for-profit that works for the advancement of professional women.
Silicon Valley, despite its reputation for innovation, lags even the rest of California on this issue. In Santa Clara county, women hold just 11 percent of board seats, which the study authors say is one of the lowest county figures in the state.
As an industry, technology isn’t exactly shining when it comes to gender diversity. The utilities and telecommunications industry has the highest percentage of women board members, at 22.9 percent. Within the software industry, just 13 percent of board seats are held by women; at hardware companies, 12.6 percent. Semiconductor companies do the worst–just 6.1 percent of board directors at those companies are women.
There are signs that the U.C. Davis-Watermark study, which has been conducted annually for the past ten years, is starting to make a difference itself. This summer, pension funds CalSTRS and CalPERS began agitating to get more women on the boards of California companies, based on the information in the 2013 U.C. Davis-Watermark study.
The two pension funds sent letters to companies without any women on their boards offering their help in getting women appointed; in July, one of those companies added two women to its board, according to a statement from CalSTRS’ director of corporate governance Anne Sheehan.
In September, the two pension funds launched the Diverse Director DataSource, an online resource to help companies find qualified diverse candidates for board positions.
The study authors urge patience, noting that the average age of a board member nationally is 68. “These are very senior people, and they’ve been in the corporate sector for a long time,” says Stevens. “Times have changed pretty dramatically since these people entered the labor force.”