Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

State lags in percentage of females as executives and filling board seats

Men continue to drastically outnumber women in leadership positions at Maryland companies, according to a report that tracks the number of female executives and board members at public companies in the state.

In 2012, women filled 73 of the 683 board seats available, or 10.7 percent, and claimed just 11.3 percent of executive positions, down from 12.4 percent in 2011, according to the seventh annual “Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland,” released Tuesday by Network 2000, a nonprofit that promotes women’s advancement to top leadership positions in the state.

The gender disparity primarily persists not because of deliberate discrimination, several Network 2000 officials said, but because companies simply aren’t paying enough attention.

Executives often choose candidates from a pool of people they already know — most of whom tend to be male, said Mary Ann Scully, a Network 2000 member and the chairman, president and CEO of Howard Bank. As a consequence, Scully said, women who are equally qualified yet outside that inner circle often get overlooked.

“It’s easy to pick from the people you know,” said Diane D’Aiutolo, the organization’s president. “But if you only look at that pool, the pool never gets any bigger. So business leaders need to recognize that it makes good business sense to have gender diversity — and then make it happen, because there are women out there who can fit the requirements of the job and excel at the job, but you have to look.”

Network 2000 is working to break the cycle by helping companies become aware of their habits, said Scully, who is leading a panel discussion Tuesday morning hosted by the organization.

Members said the report, which includes Maryland-based companies listed on the major stock exchanges (AMEX, NYSE and NASDAQ), serves as a reminder for companies to pay attention to gender equality issues. Raising awareness is the first and most important step in effecting change, said D’Aiutolo, a partner with the law firm of Tydings & Rosenberg LLP in Baltimore.

Officials say they’ve seen modest progress over the years, which is reflected in some areas of the annual report, but there’s still a long way to go.

Despite a population that’s about 52 percent female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland lags behind other states by some measures of workplace gender equality. Nationally, women fill 16.6 percent of board seats, nearly 6 percent higher than in Maryland.

Network 2000 officials said they aren’t sure why Maryland hasn’t progressed as quickly as other states. Scully guessed that companies in the consumer products industry might welcome women into leadership roles more readily than companies in other industries, which puts Maryland at a slight disadvantage, because there aren’t many of those businesses based here.

Last year’s numbers seemed to show a slight improvement over 2011, when 10.2 percent of board seats were filled by women, but the actual number of female board members was unchanged. The percentage increase resulted from a net loss of 32 board positions because fewer companies are included in the report (80 firms in 2012 compared with 84 in 2011).

Some measures do illustrate gradual improvement. For instance, there were 31 Maryland companies with all-male boards last year, or 39 percent, compared with 35 companies (or 42 percent) in 2011. Additionally, 29 percent of companies in the most recent report had both all-male boards and all-male executive teams. That’s down from 31 percent in 2011 and 33 percent in 2010.

Yet by other measures, the picture hasn’t changed at all — 14 companies in all seven of the organization’s reports have had all-male boards each year.

There are several other low points in the report, such as the number of non-white women holding board seats, which decreased from 13 seats in 2011 to 11 last year.

Additionally, 45 companies had all-male executive teams, or 56.3 percent, in 2012, up from 54.8 percent in 2011. Yet, although the percentage increased, the actual number of Maryland companies with male-only leadership ticked down by one from 2011 to 2012.

Officials recognize that figures can fluctuate greatly from year to year solely by losing or gaining one person in a leadership role, but D’Aiutolo said it’s fair to draw conclusions even from incremental changes.

“Frankly, we’re thrilled any time we see some progress.” she said. “The reality is, it can fluctuate a lot when you’re only talking about a total of 73 [women in board positions]. If someone retires and she’s a woman and is replaced by a man, well, that still says something. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more than 73 women out of 683 in board positions. Period.”

Scully said she thinks the progress, however modest, is the result of concerted efforts and general shifts in societal attitudes about gender equality.

“There’s generally a greater awareness that if everyone isn’t alike, you’ll probably end up with a better governance group than if everyone is alike,” Scully said. “Our bank is a public company, and we do a lot of planning around what a board should look like. Companies that don’t have diversity aren’t saying, ‘We don’t want to be inclusive.’ They just haven’t necessarily put inclusiveness on their radar screen. And that won’t happen by itself.”

To emphasize their point that women are effective in leadership roles, Network 2000 officials and members cite statistics showing that Fortune 500 companies tend to have more women on their boards than companies not on the list. In 2012, women held 15.3 percent of the board seats for Maryland’s Fortune 500 companies, 4.6 percent higher than board seats as a whole.