Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

At most area public companies, boards still thin on women directors

Despite a steady rise of influential businesswomen in the Tampa Bay economy, they remain poorly represented on the boards of directors of far too many public companies.

A Tampa Bay Times check of the board makeup of 10 larger publicly traded corporations based here found only 17 women among 95 directors. And even those results are skewed. Seven of the 17 women directors serve on the boards of just two companies: St. Petersburg-based HSN and Tampa's Bloomin' Brands.

In both cases, women serve as CEOs. HSN, run by Mindy Grossman, has four women on its 10-director board. And Bloomin' Brands, run by Liz Smith, has three women on its 10-director board. Both CEOs also serve as directors.

Without those two companies, the board rooms look even more male dominated.

TECO Energy has two women on a nine-member board, while Raymond James Financial claims two on its 10-member board.

After that, six of the remaining 10, including regional heavyweights Tech Data and Jabil Circuit, boast just one woman director apiece.

It's as if the stigma of male-only boards of directors has been solved, for now, with the addition of just one woman.

The lack of progress locally is disappointing, but not unusual. A 2013 survey of Fortune 500 companies by Catalyst, an advocacy group that tracks corporate board diversity, found that women held only 16.9 percent of corporate board seats, indicating no significant year-over-year uptick for the eighth straight year.

Among the 10 larger companies here, women made up 18 percent of their boards. But that's an inflated figure due to the cluster of women on HSN and Bloomin' Brands boards.

The genders differ on why they think women are underrepresented on boards. Men tend to believe that the "lack of women in executive ranks" is the primary reason that the percentage of women on boards is not increasing.

Women say it stems from "traditional networks (that) tend to be male-oriented." These findings appear in a 2012 Harvard Business School study backed by Heidrick & Struggles and WomenCorporateDirectors.

Among the boards of the 10 Tampa Bay companies, historical gender bias still seems prominent. HSN and Bloomin' Brands are not only run by women, but the companies operate in retail fields — where women tend to play more prominent roles. That contrasts with more technology-driven businesses like Tech Data and Jabil where senior women's roles still lag.

A handful of smaller publicly traded companies here still boast all-male boards. Examples include property insurer HCI Group or treasure hunting firm Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Last year, California state legislators passed a nonbinding resolution, the nation's first of its kind, urging public companies to increase the proportion of women directors by the end of 2016.

That kind of nudge would never fly in Florida. But companies that think they can deflect consumer criticism forever just by adding one woman to their boards will be rudely awakened.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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