Paul Gores , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 4:06 p.m. CT June 18, 2017
As local business leaders who have become friends, Kim Sponem and Marsha Lindsay talk about their experiences. One day at lunch, the two Madison women realized they kept hearing the same refrain from male peers.
“For so many years, we’ve heard well-intentioned folks say, ‘Well, I’d like to have more women on my board, but I just can’t find any,’” said Lindsay, who is founder and chair of the marketing firm Lindsay, Stone & Briggs.
That excuse, say Sponem and Lindsay, can – and should – go away. But it likely will take some innovation by existing members of corporate boards for the under-representation of women to fade at a faster pace, said the two chief executives.
“There’s this misunderstanding that’s lingered from 20 or 30 years ago that it was difficult to find qualified women,” said Lindsay, who joined with Sponem in researching the issue and conducting interviews with leaders in a variety of industries in the hope of offering ideas to help.
That most corporate boards lack gender diversity isn’t in question. Females account for about 16% of board members nationally, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That’s up from 8% in 1997, but still a very slow evolution, Lindsay and Sponem say.
The GAO concluded that if females joined boards as often as men beginning in 2015, it would take more than four decades for women to reach parity with men.
“That is laughable,” Lindsay said.
Added Sponem, who is CEO of Summit Credit Union, Wisconsin’s second-biggest credit union: “Yeah, we can’t wait that long.”
More-recent data from the executive compensation research firm Equilar showed that as of March this year, 15.9% of Russell 3000 board seats were occupied by women. That was up from 15.1% in all of 2016.
While women accounted for nearly one-quarter of new directorships in the quarter, the Equilar data showed about 22.5% of boards in the Russell 3000 – an index including the 3,000 largest companies traded in the U.S. – had no women at all.
The situation in Wisconsin is roughly the same as nationally. In a report last fall, the advocacy group Milwaukee Women inc found that women constituted 16.9% of the members of the state’s top public company boards. That was an increase from 15.8% in 2015 and 12.3% a decade earlier.
Milwaukee Women inc also reported that the percentage of females on the boards of 47 of Wisconsin’s 50 largest private companies was 15.7% last year. That was unchanged from 2015. Forty-five percent of private companies in Wisconsin had no women in the boardroom.
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