Women are still scarce on Colorado public company boards of directors.
Out of the top 27 publicly traded companies based in Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties — or with strong local connections — only a handful have more than 20 percent women on their boards, including Heska Corp., WhiteWave Foods Co., Vail Resorts Inc., Zayo Group Holdings Inc., DigitalGlobe, Inc. and Gaiam Inc., and 12 don’t have any female representation on their boards at all.
Nationwide, the average is 18.8 percent, up from just 14.6 percent in 2011, according to the 2015 Gender Diversity Index issued by 2020 Women on Boards, a nonprofit grassroots campaign that is committed to increasing the percentage of women who serve on company boards to 20 percent or greater by the year 2020.
Forty-five percent of all companies nationwide now have 20 percent or greater women on their board.
The organization tracks progress for women on boards among the Fortune 1000 companies. Of the 842 active U.S. public companies examined, 664 of them earned the group’s “W” designation, meaning they are a winning company that has 20 percent or more board seats filled with female directors. Women gained 75 board seats in 2015, compared with 52 board seats in those companies in 2014, the group found.
“You don’t have to have someone on the board with industry experience. Sometimes it is useful to have someone from outside the industry who doesn’t have lessons to unlearn about that industry’s lore. They bring a fresh perspective.”
Jason Napolitano, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, executive vice president, Heska Corp.
Every sector has seen growth in the numbers of women placed on boards, the report found. The number of companies with zero women on their boards has also decreased to 9 percent from 18 percent in 2011.
The group ranks companies with 11 percent to 19 percent women on their boards as “V” for very close to where they need to be. Companies with only one woman board member are ranked “T” for token. Companies with zero women on their boards receive a “Z” rating.
‘Value inherent in diversity’
The founders of 2020 Women on Boards believe that gender diversity strengthens the U.S. economy.
“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,” the organization said. “Companies that have women directors and executive officers lead by example. They send a clear message that they value diversity of thought and experience. Advancing women to positions of leadership is smart business.”
Ball Corp., which is the largest publicly traded company in the area with $8.6 billion in revenue in 2014 and 14,500 employees worldwide, has one female director out of nine directors.
In its proxy statement, the company said that its nominating and corporate governance committee “consistently applies the principles of diversity in its consideration of candidates for Board positions. In addition to considering characteristics such as race, gender and national origin, the Committee considers a variety of other characteristics such as business and professional experience, education and skill, all leading to differences of viewpoint and other individual qualities that contribute to Board heterogeneity.”
Heska Corp. topped our list of companies with winning boards of directors. The company, which is headquartered in Loveland, has a six-person board of directors, three of whom are women.
It is the only company out of 27 companies examined that had complete gender equity on its board.
Back of a chair in the board room
In its annual proxy statement the company said that its Corporate Governance Committee does not have “an established policy for diversity of Director nominees or appointees. However, we believe diversity is inherent in our approach of seeking high quality individuals with complementary skills to create a group dynamic and decision making process that is even stronger than would be obtained by the mere summation of its individual contributors in isolation.”
Jason Napolitano, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, executive vice president and secretary at Heska Corp., said that his company’s emphasis is on strong board candidates first, bringing people with good business experience.
“We also recognize that there is value inherent in diversity, where you get different perspectives in the room all at once. That often will lead to a sum being greater than a bunch of individuals contributing alone,” he said.
Heska developed a range of blood diagnostic solutions for treating pets. Because the company works closely with veterinarians, it wants to make sure its board reflects that demographic. About 70 percent of veterinarians are women, he said.
“At the board level, it would be nice to have women because, increasingly, our customers are women,” he said.
Zayo aims for 50/50
Public companies across the country have said they don’t have women on their boards because they are involved in industries that women are not attracted to, such as energy and minerals.
“You don’t have to have someone on the board with industry experience,” Napolitano said. “Sometimes it is useful to have someone from outside the industry who doesn’t have lessons to unlearn about that industry’s lore. They bring a fresh perspective.”
“It is not a charitable contribution to the general idea of diversity. The company gets value out of that. Zayo has found we improved our numbers across the diversity spectrum, which has provided value for our company. Our bottom line has improved significantly.”
Jarrod Tisdell, vice president of people, culture and brand, Zayo Group
He added that he “can’t think of any industries where women have been disqualified. It seems to me you should be able to find a woman in any industry.”
Zayo Group Holdings Inc. was another company that beat the average on board gender diversity, with 37.5 percent of its eight directors being women.
Jarrod Tisdell, vice president of people, culture and brand within Zayo Group Holdings in Boulder, said that his company has made a pointed effort in the past year and moving forward to get more diversity on its board of directors and companywide.
Zayo’s goal is to get the company to a 50/50 split on the board and in the company within the next five to 10 years.
It has always been a principle of the company’s CEO, Dan Caruso, but this year the company made the effort to spend money on human capital in the company and outside the company to help it achieve its goals. The company attends women in technology and women in business events to not only recruit good candidates but also to let people know that Zayo is a “place they would want to come work and thrive,” Tisdell said.
From board room to bottom line
Zayo wants to make sure it has people on its board who understand Zayo’s core business and what makes sense for its plans moving forward, but it doesn’t want to limit it to telecom or fiber people. It also wants to include individuals with a broader understanding of financial markets, equity markets and business in general.
In response to companies that say they just can’t find women to hold leadership or director positions, Tisdell said they are “not trying hard enough. …The telecom and technology industry is very heavily male-dominated and it is hard to get the numbers up where we want them to unless we are willing to put resources toward that effort.”
Adding women to leadership and board positions is a value proposition, he said.
“It is not a charitable contribution to the general idea of diversity. The company gets value out of that. Zayo has found we improved our numbers across the diversity spectrum, which has provided value for our company. Our bottom line has improved significantly,” Tisdell said. “People say they have a hard time finding it, but they are not thinking creatively enough or are not willing to put money upfront to get that done.”
Gaiam Inc., headquartered in Louisville, also has 37.5 percent women board members. In its proxy statement, it said that its board of directors reviews and assesses the appropriate skills, experience and background sought for members of the board.
“This assessment of board skills, experience, and background includes numerous diverse factors, such as independence; understanding of and experience in consumer product businesses, technology, finance, and marketing; international experience; age; and gender and ethnic diversity.”
It adds that the company doesn’t expect each director to have the same background, skills or experience but it does expect that “board members will have a diverse portfolio of backgrounds, skills and experiences.”
Large company numbers up
Larger companies do a better job of including women board members, according to 2020 Women on Boards. Since 2011, those numbers have continued to increase. In 2015, 22.9 percent of board seats for the Fortune 100 Index companies were held by women, or about 2.7 women directors per board. Of the Fortune 500 Index companies, 20.1 percent of board seats were held by women or an average of 2.2 women directors per board, the organization found.
In Colorado, which has 23 Fortune 1000 companies, 14.6 percent of those board seats were held by women. Statewide, the Gender Diversity Index was 14.8 percent, up slightly from 14 percent in 2014, according to 2020 Women on Boards.