Symposium Explores Role of Women in Board Rooms

    In the symposium's featured presentation, Professor Douglas Branson, the W. Edward Sell Chair in Business Law at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, provided an overview of his research, which appears in two recent books, No Seat at the Table: How Governance and Law Keep Women Out of the Boardroom and The Last Male Bastion: Gender and the CEO Suite at America's Public Companies.

    This is the "topic du jur in Europe," Branson said, but has "flatlined" in the United States. The statistics indicating the number of women on corporate boards vary widely throughout the world, Branson said. While more than 50 percent of U.S. business school students are women, approximately 12.2 percent of corporate directors in the U.S. are women, according to Branson.

    Overall the European average is 11.7 percent. Norway mandates that at least 40 percent of a public company's directors be women, while Portugal has the fewest females on corporate boards, accounting for just 0.6 percent. In the Pacific Rim, Australia has the highest number, at 10.6 percent, while Japan has virtually zero female directors.

    While there are many places for women to get advice about succeeding in business, Branson said typical "how-to advice is usually wrong.' For instance, he said advice that women should stay in the same corporation and be patient but passive may be the worst route a woman could follow to gain a board seat.

    In fact, Branson said, 68 percent of women who hold board seats did not rise vertically through that corporation.

    His research shows that the best way for women to gain a directorship is to "sidestep" into a new career. For instance, a woman could start her career in one business, earn several promotions, then sidestep into a completely different area, like the nonprofit world, academia, law or government, and later return to the corporate world to become a director.

    "It's more difficult for women," Branson said, explaining that they "have to walk a tight rope."

    Another symposium participant, Kate Barber Nolan '97, the associate general counsel of Duke Energy, made similar remarks during her presentation, noting that women are subjected to certain behavior codes in the business world.

    "But you don't know what the rules are, so it's easy to run afoul of them," she said. "There are different standards of conduct and behavior that senior female executives face."

    The symposium also included a panel discussion by other top legal academics:

    • Stalled: Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards: by Barbara Black, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law and director of the Corporate Law Center, the University of Cincinnati, discussed
    • Feminizing Capital: A Corporate Imperative: by Darren Rosenblum, professor at Pace School of Law
    • Wanted: Female Corporate Directors: by Joan MacLeod Heminway, the College of Law Distinguished Professor of Law at Tennessee

    A panel of practicing attorneys and corporate executives provided practical perspectives on corporate governance.

    In addition to Nolan, the panel featured remarks from Pamela Morris, president and CEO of CareSource; Kate Lamme '80, former senior vice president and general counsel for Standard Register; and Mildred P. Woryk, former vice president of human resources for Tomkins Corporation. Nancy Michaud '80, vice president, general counsel and secretary at Dayton's Huffy Corporation, moderated their discussion.

    About the Project for Law & Business Ethics