Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Slow progress continues for women representation on Maryland boards, report shows

An annual census report of the representation of women on boards of public companies in Maryland showed slow progress and concerns are mounting over the COVID-19 pandemic’s long-term impact on the representation of women in the workplace.

The report, released by Executive Alliance, includes data collected from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020 for 68 Maryland-based companies on the American, New York and Nasdaq stock exchanges.

All Rights Reserved

Ellen Fish, Baltimore region market leader at Sandy Spring Bank and the chair of the census report subcommittee for Executive Alliance. (The Daily Record/File photo)

The report showed Maryland continued to lag behind the national average of women representation on boards at public companies. It also showed progress, with more than half of Maryland companies having at least 20% of board seats held by women and the state increasing its number of women CEOs.

The report comes as businesses begin to emerge from a pandemic that caused a mass departure of women from the workforce, prompting concerns that recent gains in boardroom diversity could be erased in the coming years.

In Maryland, women hold 22% of public company board seats, lower than the 28% of women who hold board seats at S&P 500 companies. Executive Alliance’s report last year showed women held 19% of public company board seats in Maryland.

A total of 34% of Maryland boards have one woman director, compared to the 5% of S&P 500 companies that have one woman board member.

“That could suggest tokenism that ‘because of pressure from the public, we’re putting one person on the board as opposed to embracing diversity,’” said Ellen Fish, the chair of the census report subcommittee.

There is also slow progress for women of color on public boards. The percentage of women of color on public boards in Maryland increased from 2.8% to 3.4%, which continues to lag behind the representation of women of color on boards at Fortune 500 companies.

Seven Maryland companies have zero women board directors, four of which are in the manufacturing industry. In the Executive Alliance’s report last year, 10 companies had zero women directors.

The report also emphasized the long-term effects of the underrepresentation of women on Maryland boards. If current trends continue, gender equality in the boardroom will not be reached until 2038.

But there are concerns the pandemic will prevent current trends from continuing.

With the pandemic shuttering schools and daycare centers, many of these childcare responsibilities fell to women. More than 2.3 million left the labor force between February 2020 to February 2021, according to the National Women’s Law Center. In the same period, more than 1.8 million men dropped out of the workforce.

The effect of this on board representation is not evident in the most recent report, said Fish, the Baltimore region market leader at Sandy Spring Bank. She anticipates it will take several years for the exodus to have effects on boardroom representation.

In the report, Executive Alliance president Mary Jean Herron wrote that “[u]nless Maryland’s businesses take action to retain and support women in the labor force, we may lose a generation’s gains.”

One way to do this, Fish said, is for companies to replicate what others have done to foster workplace diversity, such as Marriott and McCormick & Company. At Marriott, women make up 27% of executive board positions, and 29% of executive board positions at McCormick are women.

“We have to take the time to look at … what are the life and work issues that are getting in the way of women being able to participate at the same level that a man can participate in the workforce,” Fish, a former president of Executive Alliance, said. “And then we need to put in place the mechanisms to solve those issues.”