By Heather Arnet
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Women are scarce on the corporate boards of leading companies; just 15 percent. As shareholders and networkers we can apply financial and social pressure to change that.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Women may be only 15 percent of corporate boards on Fortune 500 companies, despite what we've known for a long time: Women make 85 percent of the purchasing decisions about the products and services offered by those companies.
Journalist Amaya Gorostiaga, in an article in Business for Social Responsibility, writes that women control $20 trillion globally in annual consumer spending, a number that could hit $28 trillion in five years.
Facts like that rumbled into the annual meeting of the Women's Funding Network earlier this year and electrified the global alliance of 166 non-profits that invest in women and girls.
It led us to consider a key question: Why not apply a gender lens to for-profit investing? Why not leverage our shares of stock to advocate for more women on boards?
Hundreds of women who lead women's organizations and foundations were in the room. Many have personal assets and own stocks, which means they have an ownership stake in the companies that can be used as a tool for advocacy.
They also have information: In 2004 the Securities and Exchange Commission began requiring publicly traded companies to disclose in their proxy statements details about the director recruitment process.
Jacki Zehner, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, and Joe Keefe, president and CEO of Pax World Funds, led the discussion, which focused on bottom-line reasons to invest in companies that include women on their boards.
By the end, Zehner and Keefe urged shareholders to vote no on all-male corporate board slates.
"We can withhold support for all-male director slates, or instruct whoever is voting our proxies to withhold such support," Zehner said. "If enough investors ask this of their investment advisers--or their retirement plan administrators at work, or their mutual fund managers--then we can begin to make a difference. In fact, if we each wrote a letter to the companies, and enclosed it with our proxy ballot, letting them know why we are saying 'no' to their board slates, the companies we own would begin to get the picture."
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