Binders Full of Women & Corporate Governance

The domain name bindersfullofwomen.com was snapped up less than two minutes after the instantly viral phrase left Mitt Romney’s mouth last Tuesday night. The winner was American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC. The group’s biggest funder is hedge fund billionaire George Soros, who made a $1 million donation earlier this year. (CNN, 10/17/2012) Will your CEO or board make the same gafe? Learn from Romney’s mistake.

By the time I was writing this on Friday, more 350,000 people had “liked” a Facebook page about what a politically dumb statement it was. @RomneysBinder and @Romneys_Binder started firing off satiric tweets before the debate even ended, and by last Wednesday morning, they collectively had more than 20,000 followers. Many of the tweets I saw criticized Romney for being out of touch. “Nobody uses binders anymore, ” was one example. Well, maybe they did back in 2003 when Romney took office in Massachusetts… before the iPad.

Maria Cardona, makes the major points in her article for CNN, Romney’s empty ‘binders full of women,’ 10/18/2012):

  • He didn’t ask for them, the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, a coalition of nonpartisan women’s groups, gave them to the Governor, unsolicited.
  • The percentage of women in senior positions during Romney’s tenure declined from 30% when Romney took office to 27% when he left. It popped up to more than 33% after the new governor took over.
  • He answered the question from the standpoint of a detached CEO who knew that he had to find qualified women to serve in his administration come hell or high water… He must have known he would be blasted if he didn’t do it.
My takeaway for corporate governance:
  • We are quickly nearing the stage when directors will be publicly blasted for not having more than a token number of women on their boards and it will hurt their reputation so much it will also hurt their bottomline.  Don’t wait until they are nominated through proxy access.
  • Yes, we are making progress. Women held 15.6% of total board seats at Fortune 1000 firms this year, up from 14.6% in 2011, according to a study released  by 2020Women on Boards, a nonprofit committed to increasing female presence on U.S. boards. 19.9% of board seats in the Fortune 100 are held by women, compared to just 13.6% for companies in the bottom half of the Fortune 1000. Still, the numbers are bleak.
According to a 1,000 directors worldwide conducted by Women Corporate Directors in partnership with Heidrick & Struggles, found major differences between male and female directors. Women believe boards must be proactive. Men think it is a pipeline issue. 51% of women think quotas are an effective tool, whereas only 25% of men agreed. (Disparity over board diversity, Investment News, 10/15/2012)
Want to get binders full of qualified women directors proactively, instead of having them thrown in your face? The following list just scratches the surface of organizations that can help.

Binders should be opening at: AvalonBay Communities, Discovery Communications, Expedia, Noble Energy, Republic Services, and Urban Outfitters.  Readers, tell me more. Who’s on your sh*t list? Who do you turn to for help?

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