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Gender Diversity on Boards: Breaking the Impasse

Amid all of today’s talk about the desirability of bringing more women onto corporate boards, two indisputable facts stand out: One, the business case for board diversity of all kinds, including gender diversity, has been well established and widely accepted. Two, over the past decade, progress has been negligible. Here is what boards, top management, female candidates, and executive search firms can do about it.

Despite the widespread acceptance of the business case for diversity, the percentage of women on Fortune 500 company boards has remained stuck for the past seven years at around 15 percent. In both 2010 and 2011, about one-tenth of companies had no female directors at all. The future could be even darker, as recent research by our firm suggests: Over the past five years, the number of women reaching senior executive roles has decreased by 12 percent, shrinking the talent pool from which most female directors are likely to be drawn. Despite some recent high-profile appointments, only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and – as any board search professional can attest – boards still almost reflexiv ely seek sitting or retired CEOs to fill board seats.

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