- Women were appointed to 40% of open Fortune 500 company board seats in 2018 — the highest ever — according to the 2019 Board Monitor report from Heidrick & Struggles, provider of executive search, training and culture-shaping services. However, female directors still held only 22.5% of the total share of board seats in 2018. The report also found that racial and ethnic diversity on Fortune 500 boards remained the same in 2017 and 2018, with only 23% of seats held by African Americans, Hispanics, Asian, and Asian Americans leaders combined.
- Women received 183 of 462 board appointments in 2018. Based on trend data, women may reach parity in new board appointments by 2023, Heidrick & Struggles noted. But reaching similar parity for racial and ethnic groups may take "far longer;" black execs only gained 14 new board seats in 2018, Hispanic execs gained 4 new seats in 2018, and Asian or Asian American execs gained 17 new seats the same year.
- Cynthia Jamison, chairman of Tractor Supply, the largest retail farm and ranch store chain in the U.S., told Heidrick & Struggles that increasing diversity on boards is "a problem not of supply, but of demand." Other executive women interviewed expressed similar surprise at the lack of effort toward making boards more inclusive faster.
It's crucial to point out the gains that women and ethnic groups have made in board appointments during the past decade, but much of the change has been moderate at best when total board seats are factored in. This trend matches across most top leadership positions. In 2018, the number of women CEOs, for example, actually dropped from 32 the year before to 24, a 25% decrease in women at the helm. But this year, women CEOs increased once again — due in part to the growing diversity of boards, Fortune noted.
2018 saw a boost in demand for women in the C-suite, particularly after the #MeToo movement took off. Encouraging the hiring and promotion of women at all levels in an organization can lead to more of their appointments to corporate boards. Employers that want to bring more women into their organization — and also uplift them to leadership — may need to take a look at their development programs as well as the managers that front them to ensure everyone has equal access.
Benefits can't be ignored, either. Ernst & Young recently revealed that they saw female turnover drop dramatically after introducing paid leave for dads. Women are less likely to be saddled with caregiving responsibilities or punished professionally for taking maternity leave when men have access to it as well, which speaks to why benefits need to accommodate a diverse group of people.