Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Too few women in Tampa Bay's biggest corporate boardrooms

Once an all-boys club, many of Tampa Bay's larger companies eventually wised up after decades of criticism and added a woman to their board of directors.

But, in many cases, the newfound openness ended there.

None of the top 10 publicly traded corporations here are exactly role models in gender diversity among directors. Four of the companies had two female directors, while the remaining six had one apiece. Those four "leaders" with two women on their boards are TECO Energy, Raymond James Financial, Lincare and HSN (which includes the even rarer female CEO and board member Mindy Grossman).

In all 10 boards, that adds up to 14 women among 95 directors, or nearly 15 percent. That's just below the 2011 average of 16 percent female directors at Fortune 500 companies. But it's a shade higher than the national average of about 12 percent on U.S. corporate boards.

If we dug deeper into the smaller public companies in Tampa Bay, fewer women would be found as directors. For example, in a spot check of 2012 proxy statements, where public companies identify their directors, companies like Clearwater's MarineMax, Tampa's Quality Distribution and Tampa's Odyssey Marine Exploration still list all-male boards.

This would not be so out of touch if this were the 1980s. But times are changing — apparently a lot faster than boardroom diversity. Women are taking the lead by number and often by talent and hard work in law schools, in MBA programs and even in middle (if not yet senior) management of U.S. corporations.

Ever looked at the Times listings of who are the valedictorians and salutatorians of our area high schools? Overwhelmingly, they are young women.

Now comes a new report this week from a Washington, D.C., policy group that argues that putting more women on corporate boards is not only good for women, but good for business and the economy.

The report, "Fulfilling the Promise: How More Women on Corporate Boards Would Make America and American Companies More Competitive," suggests even well-intentioned companies seeking to add women to their boards are moving too slowly. Move faster, the report says, because the number of women on corporate boards is stagnating.

"Successful companies of the future will be those that attract, train and grow diverse talent at all levels, including the board," says Roger Ferguson, CEO of the giant TIAA-CREF investment firm and who co-chairs the business-led Committee for Economic Development (CED) that produced the report.

Why such a lack of progress? These are the top excuses.

First, boards say they want the best person as a director, be they a man or a woman — even though many board members are pals of existing ones and often sit on different boards together.

Second, they complain there are not enough women with senior manager credentials and board experience to go around — which is reason enough to get more women into top manager spots.

And third, CEOs are most likely to influence the choice of new board members — and how many CEOs in America are women?

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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