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We at the National Council for Research on Women were excited to participate in the Women Funding Network’s webinar “Investing with a Gender Lens: How We Can Use Our Dollars to Drive Positive Change.” This webinar was a follow-up to the panel with the same name at the recent WFN Annual Conference, “The Power of Global Networks,” in Brooklyn, NY. The Council was proud to be a collaborating partner for this important gathering of women’s funds from across the United States.
During the webinar, Vicki Kramer, Principal of V. Kramer & Associates and a Board Member of InterOrganizationNetwork (ION) shared findings from the March 2011 7th Annual Status Report on Women Directors and Executive Officers of Public Companies in 14 Regions in the United States. Among ION’s 14 regions, women hold between 8.3 to 18% of corporate board positions, with women of color holding only 0-3.3% of board positions. These figures are actually lower than the Fortune 500 numbers where women hold 12.6-20.1% of board seats. This is not surprising, said Vicki, as bigger companies tend to have more women on their boards. Sadly, the representation of women on boards overall has been stalled for the past 7 years. Vicki’s mission at ION is to change those numbers.
One vehicle for change is proxy voting. Shareholders are entitled to a vote on corporate board positions and encourage diversity efforts. Many are throwing their weight behind a campaign “Vote No for All Male Boards,” as we’ve reported here on The Real Deal. To learn more on how to engage in investor activism, check out ION’s toolkit. As an investor, you can:
- Write to the board explaining your vote.
- Attend shareholder meetings
- Support resolutions that support diversity on boards
Another promising movement underway is to engage state treasurers in this push for greater diversity via proxy voting and shareholder resolutions. Under the leadership of Heather Arnet, the of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania has teamed up with Pennsylvania State Treasurer McCord who has pledged to leverage the state’s proxy votes on their investments to increase diversity in corporate boardrooms. This significant partnership provides a replicable model for other women’s funds to implement in their own state. It is also the culmination of Arnet’s “Zero No More” Campaign launched in 2006. This public awareness campaign—which utilized multiple strategies including op-ed placements, letter writing blasts to companies, peer-to-peer advocacy, and newspaper ads—was very successful. In 2006, women held only 9% of board seats in the top 50 boards of Pittsburg. Now, they represent 13.4%. Meanwhile, the national trend has seen a decrease of women’s representation on boards.
The research provided by ION and the successful Pennsylvania case study demonstrate not only the importance of using investment dollars to drive change, but also offer creative venues for investment activism, such as proxy voting.