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Luwanda Jenkins – Women on corporate boards: Work in progress

The recent release of Network 2000’s 2012 Census of “Women Board of Directors in Maryland” reminds me of that advertising slogan from back in the ‘70s — “you’ve come a long way baby” — which in addition to selling Virginia Slims cigarettes boldly proclaimed that women were forging ahead on all levels.

While the news according to this latest report is certainly encouraging and provides tangible evidence that women are making progress in the areas of leadership and representation on corporate boards in Maryland, it also signals the sobering reality that we still have a ways to go.

The news for Maryland is rather good. We can be proud that women hold 10.2 percent of the 715 corporate board seats in the state, which exceeds the national average by 3 percentage points and represents the highest increase in the six years that Network 20000 has tracked this.

Constellation Energy, Legg Mason, Marriott, Radio One, W. R Grace and others are reaping the benefits of gender diversity and realizing trends which suggest that companies with women on their boards outperform their peers in almost every category, including sales and return on investment.

I give much credit and kudos to those 49 out of 84 Maryland companies that have at least one woman on their board. But the glaring truth is that we are still playing onesie-twosie when it comes to women crossing the threshold into corporate board rooms.

A rather disappointing statistic reveals that the inclusion of women of color has stalled at a low of just 2 percent, which translates to the dismal fact that women of color occupy only 13 out of 715 board seats among Maryland companies.

‘Boss ladies rule’

Moving beyond mere token representation is the next horizon for women.

One local powerhouse has moved past symbolic gestures in its commitment to gender diversity. Lockheed Martin, one of the state’s largest, most influential companies, leads the way with three women on its board and has just added a second woman of color, an African-American.

Dr. Karen Proudford, a member of the Network 2000 Women on Corporate Boards Committee and director of the Graves Honors Program at Morgan State University, sees Lockheed Martin’s commitment to gender and ethnic diversity as an opportunity to set the tone for other Maryland companies.

“We are at the intersection of diversity which includes multidimensional levels of both gender and race. We should encourage formal recommendations for companies to actually start this discussion, analyze the data and commit to implementing strategies to increase both gender and racial diversity,” she said.

Is gender and racial parity on Maryland’s corporate boards within our reach? Admittedly I’m the eternal “glass half full” philosopher, but I have evidence to back up my premise. The recent i-Village national survey provides more good news about the climate in Maryland for women.

In its recent survey of the 50 Best & Worst States for Women, i-Village ranked Maryland third behind Connecticut and Hawaii. The survey said Maryland is the state where “boss ladies rule,” noting that women own one-third of all businesses in Maryland, the highest such figure in the country along with having the highest level of women with college degrees at 36 percent.

‘Huge mindset change’

Kathleen T. Snyder, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, is also optimistic about the prospect of increasing women on boards in Maryland. But she also realizes that “it’s a huge mindset change for corporate boards as well as for many qualified women who haven’t considered such opportunities in the past.

“Women offer a different view of the world to these corporate boards, whether from a financial, human relations or management perspective. Smart organizations benefit from diversity in leadership. After all, the global market is diverse.”

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce was a sponsoring partner for the recent Network 2000 event where the 2012 Census report was presented.

So I’ll end where I started: When it comes to whether women are ascending the crystal staircase to corporate boardrooms in Maryland, we have absolutely come a long way, my sisters, but we still have a ways to go.

Thanks to organizations like Network 2000, we continue to have a clear road map, a compelling business case and the leadership to get us to the boardroom in greater numbers by 2020.

A member of The Daily Record’s Maryland Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence, Luwanda Walker Jenkins is Special Assistant to the President of Coppin State University. Her email address is [email protected]