Number of women on Maryland company boards declines

Ellen Fish

The number of board seats held by women in Maryland dropped by six in 2010 from 2009, and female executives as top earners also declined last year, a report by the local group Network 2000 has found.

The report — a Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland — features 86 Maryland public companies and was released Tuesday.

It showed that women hold just 65 of the 708 board seats in Maryland, or 9.2 percent.

Nationally, women hold 15.2 percent of board seats, said Ellen Fish, president-elect of Network 2000.

“The figures say Maryland clearly lags the nation when it comes to women’s representation in the board room and the executive suite,” Fish said. “Our theme for the census this year is ‘If not, why not?’ and we challenge companies without any women on their boards to ask that question.”

Fish blamed the recession for some of the losses.

“Ten companies fell out of the census this year,” she said. “One went bankrupt, one bank was taken over by the FDIC, several merged or were sold, some moved their headquarters elsewhere, several were delisted by the stock exchanges. What that means for women is that there are fewer public companies in Maryland, and that those companies in Maryland were still greatly under-represented.”

Another reason for the lag, she said, is that finance, manufacturing and science and technology companies traditionally have been male dominated and offer few opportunities to female executives. That gap in math and science expertise is a topic that academic researchers and business experts say begins for many females in elementary school.

The number of Maryland public companies dropped to 86 in 2010 from 92 in 2009, and the census found that women held 9.2 percent of seats on public boards, a figure that did not change.

Overall, 40 Maryland companies had no female members on their boards last year, a drop from 44 boards with no women trustees in 2009. One of them is Hampstead-based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., which bucks a national trend of retailers that have women board members, Fish said.

On the other hand, there were nine boards surveyed that had 20 percent or more of women seated.

The earning power of female executives also declined slightly as 34 managers were listed as top earners, down from 39 in 2009, the report said.

Fish said that Network 2000, which has just over 80 members, plans to continue its mentoring program in the upcoming year to help women gain executive positions and, ultimately, board slots.

“We mentor mid-level women and identify what skill sets they are lacking to help them advance into the executive suite,” she said. “We also seek to let companies notify us if they are looking for a certain type of board position, and we’ll send it out to our membership.”

The group does not advocate establishment of quotas for women-held board positions, Fish said. Rather, Network 2000 seeks to have corporations become more transparent, which will help women employees advance and aim for executive positions.

“Any time there’s more transparency, people are going to look within and validate why their board looks the way it looks,” Fish said. “That allows folks to take a step back and see that their board is not as diverse. I think that today, there’s a lot of challenge for corporations as far as transparency and corporate governance. I see that as an opportunity.”

Maryland companies adding women as top executives in 2010 included Choice Hotels International Inc., Carrolton Bancorp Inc., Sourcefire Inc. and W.R. Grace & Co.

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