Women held less than 17 percent of corporate board seats at Fortune 500 companies in the United States this year, the eighth straight year with no significant year-over-year increase, according to the latest analysis by Catalyst. Women also held just 14.6 percent of executive officer positions at these companies, the fourth year with no growth, and were just over 8 percent of the top earners at these companies, unchanged since last year.
Women of color fare even worse. They hold just 3.2 percent of all board seats and more than two-thirds of all companies had no women of color on their boards at all. Ten percent had no women on their boards, period, and less than a quarter had three or more female board directors. More than a quarter had no women on their executive team.
The kinds of roles women take on boards has also made little progress. Just 3.1 percent of these companies’ board chairs were women this year, a decrease from last year. About 10 percent of the lead directors were women.
All efforts to increase gender diversity on corporate boards in the U.S. are basically voluntary. The only rules are from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which in 2010 began requiring companies to simply disclose information about how they consider diversity when selecting board members. The rules are so vague that they don’t necessarily mean gender or racial diversity and the SEC made it clear that they are “not intended to steer behavior.” Even so, over 60 percent of large companies fail to comply.
Many other countries, by contrast, have either instituted more concrete targets or even quotas for increasing gender diversity. The United Kingdom set a target of 25 percent female board members by the end of 2015, and the number of women on the country’s boards just hit a record high. Norway was the first to institute a quota of 40 percent female boards, and women now hold 35 percent of non-executive board positions. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have since similarly passed quotas, and the European Union may soon do the same.
Increasing gender diversity doesn’t just guarantee more equality for women in the workplace. It is also a smart business move. Multiple studies have shown that having more women on boards leads to better value and performance.