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White Calls for Greater Boardroom Parity

In a recent speech, SEC Chair Mary Jo White addressed gender disparity in the boardroom. She suggested that while there have been strides towards greater representation of women in many areas, “there remain areas stubbornly resistant to the progress that objectively should have already occurred.” For example, women only represent “29 percent of senior officials in finance and insurance, and no woman has, for example, ever been CEO of one of the 22 largest U.S. investment banks or financial firms.” However, White focused her remarks specifically on the lack of women on boards, noting that women hold only 19.2 percent of the seats on S&P 500 companies. While acknowledging that the figure represents a significant increase since 1981, she highlighted that this figure lags behind many other developed countries.

She called the goal of a minimum of 40 percent women on these companies by 2025 set by the Women’s Forum of New York “imperative,” but noted that, at the current pace, true parity would take until 2090. She refuted the idea that the problem was a “pipeline issue” because “[w]e are here—in numbers, and we are qualified—in numbers.” According to White, “our slow progress, in the face of highly qualified, diverse candidates, the demands of investors, and the tangible benefits of greater diversity on boards, is not defensible.” White called on both the private and public sectors to “embrace and maintain a sense of urgency to expand senior-level opportunities for qualified women and minorities.”

To achieve gender parity in the boardroom, White suggested “strongly encourag[ing] governance and nominating committees to consider diverse candidates and urge CEOs to sponsor women and minorities they believe would make good board members.” Additionally, she argued that we should “recognize and celebrate the leaders of progress,” while at the same time we should “call out those companies and their boards that do and do not proactively reach forward.” Lastly, she argued that “[w]e also need to continue to use best practices to build supportive work environments.”