Women are seeing slow gains on Virginia boards

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

The needle is moving slowly on the diversity of corporate boards in Virginia, at least in terms of increased representation by women.

Women hold 65 seats, or 16.9 percent, of 383 board member positions at 40 publicly traded companies in Virginia with annual revenue of at least $1 billion, according to a study done for Virginia Business by Equilar Inc. of the companies most recent fiscal year proxies. Equilar is an executive compensation firm based in Redwood, Calif.  In 2008 when Virginia Business commissioned a similar study by another company, women held 11 percent of more than 400 seats on 38 boards of large public companies. 

At that time, 32 of the companies, or 84.2 percent, had at least one woman on their boards. Today, 37 of the 40 companies, or 92.5 percent, have women directors.

Only three companies, whose proxy statements were examined by Equilar, showed no female board members. They are CACI International, a defense contractor in Arlington; ePlus, a provider of technology solutions in Herndon; and NVR, a Reston-based company that operates in homebuilding and mortgages. 

According to Equilar’s current study, these companies were among eight of Virginia’s largest publics that had no women on their boards in 2008.  Of the 40 companies, 23, or 57.5 percent (for which information also was available in 2008), had boosted their percentage of women board members during that time period. 

When compared with national numbers, Virginia is a little behind the curve. Depending on the source, national percentages range from 18 to 20 percent of corporate board seats held by women at Fortune 500 companies.

In Virginia, the company with the highest percentage of women members is Fairfax-based ICF International, which provides consulting and technology services to government and commercial clients. Three of its seven board members, or 43 percent, are women.

Coming in at No. 2 is media giant Gannett in McLean. Gannett’s board has four women, 40 percent of its 10 directors. 

(Gannett was scheduled to split into two publicly traded companies in late June:  Tegna, a broadcasting and digital company, and Gannett, a publishing company.  Tegna’s 10-member board will have five women directors, including President and CEO Gracia Martore. Gannett’s eight-member board will include three women.)

A 2014 survey by Pricewaterhouse­Coopers of more than 860 directors at the nation’s largest companies showed the average age of all women directors at Fortune 50 companies was about 60, compared with an average of 63 for male directors. In Virginia, the average for women board members is 61.4. The survey also says that women accounted for 24 percent of all new board members appointed in this group between 2012 and 2014.

Such trends bode well for the future. “Given the facts that current female board members are younger and less tenured than their male counterparts and that a higher percentage of new directors are women, it is reasonable to project that the board of the future will include a higher proportion of women than is seen today,” said PwC analysts.

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