Women left off Maryland corporate boards

Only 9 percent of directors are female

  • Howard Bank CEO Mary Ann Scully says "there are more [fully qualified] women out there than some board nominating chairs and ... committee chairs would like to acknowledge."
Howard Bank CEO Mary Ann Scully says "there are more [fully… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
April 25, 2010|By Jay Hancock

There are 180,000 more women living in Maryland than men, according to the Census Bureau. Women far surpass men in enrollment and graduation from Maryland universities, and they tend to get better grades.

Baltimore has its second woman mayor. Women Legislators of Maryland, founded in the 1960s, was the first women's legislative caucus in the country. Nearly one legislator in three in Annapolis is female, the ninth-highest proportion in the country. If Maryland's Barbara Mikulski is re-elected this year, she'll be the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Senate.

But Maryland businesses are missing out on all the talent. Hardly any women sit on boards of publicly traded Maryland corporations.

Only 9 percent of the directors are female, according to the latest survey from Network 2000, a Baltimore group promoting professional progress for women. That's even worse than the miserable national average of 15 percent.

Dozens of prominent Maryland companies have zero women directors. I called and hassled two of them, Columbia-based Sourcefire and Hampstead-based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, about the estrogen shortage.

Sourcefire can't comment on all the Y chromosomes on its board because it's in a "quiet period" before profits are announced, a spokesman said. Jos. A. Bank officials did not respond to several requests for comment.

What is this, the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce?

Ann C. Berzin, who joined Constellation Energy Group's board two years ago, blames the scarcity on women's recent arrival in the top executive ranks.

"Being a board member is often what someone does at the end of their business career," says Berzin, the former head of Financial Guaranty Insurance. "As women become more and more of a force at the highest levels of business, often, when they retire or in their careers as CEOs, they will get tapped to sit on boards of directors."

Maybe, but what law says a woman must have been a CEO to sit on a corporate board? That's part of the club mentality that has blocked women from corporate power for so long.

"The relative number of female board members is likely more a function of how many women have broken the glass ceiling in the business world than anything else," says Stephen Scroggins, who recruits directors and financial executives for Russell Reynolds Associates in New York. "The obvious answer is, not enough women have to date."

So break the glass ceiling from above. Maryland boards need to nominate more women, and they need to nominate more women who aren't chief executives.

Companies will be shocked at what women can teach them about marketing, human resources, communication, finance and risk. It's not as if the men running the economy have done a terrific job lately.

I am quite certain that, had women been running Wall Street instead of frat boys with spreadsheets, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup could not have pulled the financial pranks that caused 10 percent unemployment.

It's no coincidence that both Goldman and Citi are being sued for alleged gender discrimination and "mommy-tracking," one lawsuit by a former female employee, the other by a current one. Each company has a few women directors. They need more.

Women board members take the job so seriously that they bother to show up for the meetings.

"Women are less likely to have attendance problems than men," says a paper published last year in the Journal of Financial Economics. "Furthermore, the greater the fraction of women on the board is, the better is the attendance of male directors."

Women basically shame the male directors into doing their jobs. Boards understandably want directors with experience in management and finance. But don't tell me that women school superintendents, hospital administrators, startup entrepreneurs, college deans or chief marketing officers are unqualified to serve on the boards of even the largest companies.

You just need to look in the right places, which often don't include the Center Club.

"I don't see this as a conscious blocking-out," says Mary Ann Scully, CEO and chairman of Howard Bank. But, she says, "there are more of these women out there than some board nominating chairs and some governance committee chairs would like to acknowledge."

Women board members I talked to give credit to Corporate America for trying.

"At Lockheed Martin, three of the five executive vice presidents are women," says Gwendolyn King, who sits on Lockheed's board as well as those of other big companies. "You've got a woman running DuPont."

Sure, but come on. Only 9 percent of the board seats at Maryland public companies are held by women?

This is 2010, guys. Women are your customers. Women are employees. Women are vendors. Ninety years after the 19th Amendment gave women the political vote, it's ridiculous and stupid and probably unprofitable for boards to deny them the corporate governance vote.

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