by Michael Connor

Females still have a long way to go before being represented in equal numbers and equal responsibility in corporate boardrooms, according to a new report from The Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm.

Board RoomCiting “uneven progress” in increasing female participation in governance, the report found that while almost 90 percent of S&P 500 companies have at least one woman board member, there are far fewer female directors at smaller companies.  Only 60 percent of the companies in the Russell 3000 index have at least one woman director.  And among “small cap” companies in the Russell 2000 Index (a subset of the Russell 3000), half have no female directors at all.

Board diversity is one focus of new Securities and Exchange Commission rules announced in December 2009 requiring that a company disclose how its board nominating committee considers diversity in assessing nominees and how the committee implements the effectiveness of the company’s diversity policy.

The latest report echoes the findings of a December survey by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that focuses on issues related to women in business, which found that in both 2008 and 2009, almost 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies had at least one women director, but less than 20 percent had three or more women serving together. Catalyst found that in 2008 women collectively held a total of only 15.2 percent of board seats among Fortune 500 companies.

Corporate Library found that “even among the S&P 500 companies with female directors, women are typically a small minority and hold few positions of responsibility,” with only 57 percent having at least two women directors, and only 19 percent with more than two women.

Among S&P 500 companies, the report found that only 14 have female board chairs, and of those 11 are also the CEOs of their companies.  Corporate Library said: “Only 45 S&P 500 companies have women chairing their compensation committees; 58 have female audit committee chairs; and 75 have a woman leading their nominating committees. Very few companies have women in two or more of these positions of responsibility.”  Xerox Corporation is the only company in the S&P 500 that has a woman serving as chair of the board and another woman serving as CEO.

The report concluded that “gender parity—measured both by absolute numbers and by the levels of responsibility given to women—is still far out of reach” and recommended that a broader pool of female director candidates be developed, so more women are ready and willing to serve on corporate boards. “Once women are on boards, they must be given equal opportunity to serve in positions of leadership and influence, such as chairing the board or key committees,” Corporate Library said.

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