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Women board directors in Maryland still lag national average

060916 BLT A daily layout.inddWhile the number of companies with no women in their boardrooms or executive suites has decreased from 17 to 14 in the past year, Maryland still lags behind the national average in its percentage of women directors, according to the latest report from Network 2000.

Overall, the number of women directors at Maryland companies increased to 91, up by one since 2014. Companies with 20 percent or more women directors increased to 31.6 percent, up slightly from 28.6 percent, the report said.

060916 BLT A daily layout.indd“We see that as a real positive momentum,” said Ellen Fish, a member of Network 2000, a nonprofit that advocates for gender diversity in leadership positions. Each year, the organization looks at data from companies headquartered in Maryland that are on major exchanges including AMEX, NYSE and NASDAQ.

Of the state’s four Fortune 500 companies, Bethesda-based hotelier Marriott International appointed two additional women directors to its board, increasing the percentage of board seats held by women at Fortune 500 companies in the state to 26.8 percent.

But women only make 14.4 percent of directors in Maryland, well under the national average of 20.1 percent. Twenty-three Maryland companies don’t have a single woman director, including six companies that haven’t had a woman on their board since Network 2000 started keeping track in 2006.

“It’s surprising to me that there are still 23 companies with no women directors. Still,” said Fish.

Among those 23 is Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcasting. The company did not return a phone call requesting comment.

One of Maryland’s most visible companies, Under Armour, continues to only have one woman on its board. The Baltimore company added Karen Katz, CEO of Neiman Marcus, as its first woman board member in 2014. At its annual meeting in April, one shareholder raised the issue and asked CEO Kevin Plank what he was going to do to change that.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a long-term commitment. It’s something that begins in management,” said Plank.

He also said that he is very happy with his current board.

“The last thing we would ever do is make a decision just because someone fits a gender or race type,” said Plank. “There’s no one checking any boxes at Under Armour.”

An Under Armour spokeswoman deferred to Plank’s remarks from April when asked for comment on Wednesday about Network 2000’s report.

060916 BLT A daily layout.inddFish agreed that gender diversity starts at the top, but for a brand that is trying to expand its business among women she thinks the Under Armour can do better.

“One could argue that one woman board member is not representative of the client base they serve.”

Fish also rejected the notion that having women on a board was about “checking boxes.”

“We don’t believe in checking boxes either,” she said. “We believe qualified women should be considered whether it’s an executive level position or a board level position.”

Network 2000 encourages companies to take a holistic approach to workplace diversity.

“It does start from the top down,” said Fish.

She gave the example of Johnson & Johnson’s Diversity University, an online program that teaches employees about understanding differences and inherent stereotypes in gender, race and sexuality.

This year’s Network 2000 report featured 11 companies in its “honor roll” for having 20 percent or more women on their boards and executive suites, including Lockheed Martin, which has four women board members, the highest of any Maryland company, tied with Marriott International and First United Corporation.

“This achievement is reflective of our commitment to create a diverse and inclusive work environment. From our board of directors through every level of our organization, we embrace the diverse talents and perspectives of our people to power innovation and drive business success,” said a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman.

Aside from identifying Fortune 500 companies, the report holds companies of all sizes to the same standard.

“The importance of diversity has nothing to do with the size of the company,” said Fish.

Looking at workforce diversity, a company’s talent pipeline and recruiting efforts can be done with existing resources, she said.

“That doesn’t cost any money to do.”

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