Board Savvy March 15, 2017

How Much are Silicon Valley Boards Improving Gender Diversity?

By Nancy Sheppard Chief Journey Advisor

Findings from the Fenwick & West Gender Diversity 2016 Proxy Season Survey, which looks at women’s positions on boards based on SEC data since 1996, point to a few promising trends and areas where Silicon Valley’s top public firms surpass the S&P 100 in their inclusion.

2016 continued a long-term trend in the SV 150 (top 150 public companies in Silicon Valley) of increasing the number of women directors. Since their 2014 survey, the average percentage of women directors increased 4 percentage points in the SV 150 to 14% and in the S&P 100 rose just 2 percentage points to 23% (with the top 15 companies in the SV 150 increasing 6.5 percentage points to 22%). However, 25% of SV 150 still have NO women on their board.
Women Directors - 2016 Proxy Season Distribution

Key excerpts from the 2016 Fenwick Survey:

Why so few women directors on SV company boards?

In addition to their focus on CEO experience and their own networks that plague many nominating committees when searching for new board members,  additional factors that contribute to the lack of women on the boards of technology and life sciences companies in the SV 150 appear to be that:

  • SV firms’ average board size is smaller than S&P 500;
  • VCs hold many of the seats on SV firms, as they hold sizable shares of the companies’ stock, and women make up a small percentage of such investors.How do women directors fare in leadership positions on SV company boards?

How do women directors fare in leadership positions on SV company boards?

The frequency with which women are included in leadership positions on the board is useful as an important indicator of whether they are being viewed as equal partners with their male peers. While the numbers of women remain relatively small, the SV 150 and the Top 15 SV have surpassed the S&P 100 in this measure.

In recent years, the top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 have surpassed the S&P 100 in percentage of women in board leadership positions, including board chairs, lead directors and committee chairs.

What’s more, when measured in terms of likelihood of being in a board leadership position among women who serve as board members, the top 15 of the SV 150 and the SV 150 overall have been significantly more likely to include women in board leadership positions than the S&P 100.  

Women board chairs are rare at public companies around the world. That is also true for the SV 150 (4.2%) and the S&P 100 (6.0%), although the Top 15 SV companies had more women in this position (13.3%). A major reason for this low number is that many CEOs also serve as chair of their board, and there are few women CEOs.

S&P 100 companies tended to have more women as a percentage of the total number of audit committee members, but the increase in women has been much greater for SV firms during the past 21 years (S&P 100 moving from 14.9% in 1996 to 24.8% in 2016; SV 150 moving from only 1.3% in 1996 to 17.9% in 2016.  The SV 15 has the highest number of women with 29.1% last year.  

Women Directors on Audit Committees

Women Directors on Audit Committees 

For more detailed information about other committees and executive management, download their executive summary or their full report.

The Athena Alliance works closely with SV firms to expand their networks to women qualified to serve on their boards. We are here to help. Just ask us how we can introduce you to the talent you need.