WILMINGTON "“ For generations, it was said that the boardroom was the boys' room, but recent efforts aim to diversify the decision-makers for the nation's largest companies, and several in Delaware are among those making inroads to change.
Leading those companies in a recent report on board diversity was Navient, an asset management and business processing services company based in Wilmington, which boasts six out of its 10 board members as women, or 60%. According to the 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Directory, Navient's board has the highest percentage of women board members of any financial- services company in the nation.
"We're proud to be recognized as a leader in board diversity," said Jack Remondi, president and CEO of Navient, in a statement. "Diverse talent and perspectives are essential to good corporate governance and contribute to the success of our company."
Six other Delaware-based companies were recognized by 2020 Women on Boards for achieving diversity of at least 20% of their board, including Artesian Resources Corp., Incyte Corp., Interdigital Inc., SLM Corp., The Chemours Corp. and WSFS Financial Corp. Two more, Chesapeake Utilities Corp. and The Bancorp Inc., were noted for having at least one female board member.
Women now hold 27.6% of the board seats at the nine corporations headquartered in Delaware on the Russell 3000 Index, above the national average of 20.4%. Delaware companies have steadily added women to their boards since 2018 when they held 25.9% of board seats in the state, up from 24.3% in 2017. As of June 30, women directors at Delaware companies also held 24 of 87 board seats.
At companies on both the 2018 and 2019 Russell 3000 lists, women gained a total of three seats. In order to add women directors, all of the companies increased the number of seats on their boards.
"Delaware companies lead the country in gender diversity on their board," said Stephanie Sonnabend, co-founder and chair of 2020 WOB, in a statement. "The GDI report tracks the 26 states with at least 20 Russell 3000 companies, so Delaware is not included. If the state was on the list, it would be at the top."
That attention on the First State will only be heightened when Wilmington joins six other cities to host its first National Conversation on Board Diversity, 2020 Women on Board's signature event held at 30 sites in five countries, on Nov. 21.
Several academic studies have concluded in recent years that female representation on a board can lead to greater dividend returns, tempered estimates on earnings, lower bid premiums in acquisitions, and greater restraint on CEO compensation, among other topics.
The lack of diversity led to the founding of 2020 Women on Boards, a 9-year-old Los Angeles-based nonprofit that advocated for a goal of 20% female board representation on boards of the Russell 3000 by 2020. In its annual report this year, it declared that it had reached its goal a year early when 20.8% of the Russell 3000 had female representation and only 11% had none, down from 25% just two years ago.
Achieving the original goal isn't the end of the line, however, as maintaining and increasing female representation is just as important. America still lags behind many of its international partners when it comes to board diversity, with several European countries boasting higher levels, according to Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit that tracks the topic internationally.
One nascent avenue to increased diversity are gender quotas enforced by the government. While most major European countries have such quotas in place, the U.S. does not. States are beginning to lead the charge, however, with California becoming the first to require publicly traded companies to include women on their boards last year or otherwise face fines.