The 2020 Women on Boards 6th Annual National Conversation on Board Diversity

The 2020 Women on Boards 6th Annual National Conversation on Board Diversity

“It is time to give women a greater voice in Corporate America. Smart companies will add women quickly to gain the best talent.”

The Tyson & Mendes Women’s Initiative promotes growth and facilitates business development opportunities for both our attorneys and clients through networking and social information sharing opportunities. On November 15, several attorneys and staff from Tyson & Mendes attended a fascinating and thought-provoking event hosted by the 2020 Women on Boards non-profit organization. 2020 Women on Boards is a national campaign to increase the percentage of women on U.S. company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020.[1] Each year, the campaign holds an annual panel discussion in cities across the country, where prominent successful women and directors offer valuable insight to attendees in an open dialogue. The San Diego event was well attended by hundreds of local women and men from across a multitude of industries and backgrounds, as well as leaders, politicians (including Senator Toni Atkins!), high-level executives and, recognized experts.[2]

Goal: 20% By 2020 – Current Progress

Attendees had the chance to learn more about the campaign’s goal, which is to raise awareness and educate people of the importance of gender diversity on corporate boards. The idea is to mobilize stakeholders, from the consumer to the boardroom, to get involved and raise the number of women on boards. 2020 Women on Boards conducts extensive research on this topic and presented its most recent findings and published reports to attendees. The campaign places companies into categories depending on the number of female directors and the percent of the board which is female:

  • “Winning” = At least 20% of the directors are female.
  • “Very Close” = Between 11% and 19% of the directors are female.
  • “Token = Only one female director.
  • “Zero” = No female directors.

The numbers have been historically low. In 2015, the 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index of Fortune 1000 companies showed that 17.9% of corporate directors were women.  This is an extremely small number when you consider women comprise about half of the total U.S. workforce, hold half of all management positions, and are responsible for almost 80% of all consumer spending. Since 2011, women have continued to make progress across each of the categories. In 2017, 55% of GDI companies are now in the “winning” category and companies in the “zero” category have fallen to an all-time low of 7%.[3] However, the progress is not consistent across various states and counties. Within California, San Diego ranks among the highest of counties in its percentage of boards with no women.  San Diego falls at 40.8% of boards with no female directors at all, while Los Angeles ranks at only 24% and San Francisco at an impressive 18.8%.[4]

Why Gender Diversity Matters

According to 2020’s leaders, the issue deserves increasing attention because boards of directors make decisions that impact individuals, communities and the whole country. As a result, membership on corporate boards should be representative of a company’s constituents. Boards of directors chose CEOs, make important decisions about executive compensation, whether to buy, sell or merge with other companies, where corporate offices close and relocate, and how much propriety a company gives to issues other than profits, such as social responsibility.

Good corporate decision-making requires the ability to hear and consider different points of view, which comes from people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Companies that have women directors and executives send a clear message that they value diversity of thought and experience.

“Building the Pipeline: How do we Prepare Ourselves and Find Director Opportunities?”

For this year’s San Diego event, the theme was focused on the benefits, obstacles and strategies to achieving gender equity on corporate boards. Senator Toni Atkins gave opening remarks. Professor Annalisa Barrett then presented the research described above on the current state of gender diversity on San Diego Company Boards. Following these presentations, Emcee Susan Snow introduced Panel Moderator Christina de Vaca, who offered some background on the panelists. The panel featured Julia Brown, board member of numerous drug development companies, William Jones, the President/CEO and owner of CityLink Investment Corporation, Susan Major, the Founder and CEO of Major Executive Search, Susan Swenson, retired Chair and CEO of Inseego Corp., and Martha Wyrsch, executive Vice President and General Counsel for Sempra Energy.

Christina de Vaca led these panelists in an engaging round of questions and answers. Topics of discussion included the panelists’ various paths to the boards on which they have served, as well as advice and tips for others who aspire to land similar positions. Each panelist offered a unique perspective, but many of the messages were the same. The issue is important no matter the field or type of organization, be it a Fortune 500 company, or a small non-profit. Gender diversity is simply good for business and corporate responsibility. But hard work and extreme preparation are key for women who aspire to reach boards. The panelists emphasized the need for women to put themselves out there among the decision-makers with the power to help them rise, as well as gain the proper qualifications, and make sure these are known.

For those interested in getting involved with the campaign, they have published a list of action items online here. The next annual discussion will be held the week before Thanksgiving 2018.


[2] Tyson & Mendes is a proud Diversity Champion sponsor of this annual event.

[3] 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index, November 2017.

[4] Board Governance Research LLC, as of June 2017.

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