This year women hold 17.3 percent of board seats in Fortune 1000 companies located in North Carolina whereas in 2015 the state average was 16.6 percent. The 2016 national average is 18.8 percent.
Malli Gero, president and co-founder of 2020 Women on Boards, which released the study, said although North Carolina is below the national average, the state is making progress.
“We are very pleased with the steps North Carolina has made,” she said. “We look forward to next year’s report and seeing even more progress.”
Gero said the lack of female representation is not necessarily due to blatant sexism, but more a result of inbred attitudes among often white male executives and company founders, who choose board members that are going to agree with them.
“What we’ve called upon is for CEOs to look beyond that box and to get out their comfort range and expand the diversity on their boards a little bit because what we know, and it’s been shown over and over again, is that diverse boards have a better bottom line,” she said.
Sue Coppola, a board member of the Association for Women Faculty & Professionals at UNC and a professor at the UNC School of Medicine, said the discrimination could be a mix of implicit and explicit factors.
“I think it’s a combination of implicit bias against women and also for some, a more explicit view that decision makers in business should be men,” she said. “Women may not (be) stepping up to those roles.”
Betsy Sleath, a board member of the Association for Women Faculty & Professionals at UNC and professor and division chairperson at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, said in an email she believes the lack of representation isn’t due to blatant sexism.
“I think sometimes women don’t step up to the plate or volunteer as much as they could,” she said. “This could be because many women, like men, are juggling several different life roles (e.g. caring for children, taking care of aging parents, career) so women might choose more often than men not to be on boards.”
Gero said representation is important because boards should adequately represent the companies they govern.
“Companies deal in the world that we live in and the board should help the CEO reflect the community in which they work and the community, for the most part, is a diverse community,” she said. “It’s really important for leadership to hear the viewpoints of all kinds of people and not just people like them.”