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School of Law | Symposium Explores Role of Women in Board Rooms

Symposium Explores Role of Women in Board Rooms

The role of women on corporate boards of directors, and the hurdles they face in securing directorships, was the subject of a symposium, Perspectives on Gender and Business Ethics: Women in Corporate Governance, sponsored by the School of Law¿s Project for Law & Business Ethics, on February 25. The program included analysis from legal experts and practical perspectives from practicing attorneys and corporate directors.

In the symposium's featured presentation, Professor Douglas Branson, the W. Edward Sell Chair in Business Law at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, provided an overview of his research, which appears in two recent books, No Seat at the Table: How Governance and Law Keep Women Out of the Boardroom and The Last Male Bastion: Gender and the CEO Suite at America's Public Companies.

This is the "topic du jur in Europe," Branson said, but has "flatlined" in the United States. The statistics indicating the number of women on corporate boards vary widely throughout the world, Branson said. While more than 50 percent of U.S. business school students are women, approximately 12.2 percent of corporate directors in the U.S. are women, according to Branson.

Overall the European average is 11.7 percent. Norway mandates that at least 40 percent of a public company's directors be women, while Portugal has the fewest females on corporate boards, accounting for just 0.6 percent. In the Pacific Rim, Australia has the highest number, at 10.6 percent, while Japan has virtually zero female directors.

While there are many places for women to get advice about succeeding in business, Branson said typical "how-to advice is usually wrong.' For instance, he said advice that women should stay in the same corporation and be patient but passive may be the worst route a woman could follow to gain a board seat.

In fact, Branson said, 68 percent of women who hold board seats did not rise vertically through that corporation.

His research shows that the best way for women to gain a directorship is to "sidestep" into a new career. For instance, a woman could start her career in one business, earn several promotions, then sidestep into a completely different area, like the nonprofit world, academia, law or government, and later return to the corporate world to become a director.

"It's more difficult for women," Branson said, explaining that they "have to walk a tight rope."

Another symposium participant, Kate Barber Nolan '97, the associate general counsel of Duke Energy, made similar remarks during her presentation, noting that women are subjected to certain behavior codes in the business world.

"But you don't know what the rules are, so it's easy to run afoul of them," she said. "There are different standards of conduct and behavior that senior female executives face."

The symposium also included a panel discussion by other top legal academics:

  • Stalled: Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards: by Barbara Black, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law and director of the Corporate Law Center, the University of Cincinnati, discussed
  • Feminizing Capital: A Corporate Imperative: by Darren Rosenblum, professor at Pace School of Law
  • Wanted: Female Corporate Directors: by Joan MacLeod Heminway, the College of Law Distinguished Professor of Law at Tennessee

A panel of practicing attorneys and corporate executives provided practical perspectives on corporate governance.

In addition to Nolan, the panel featured remarks from Pamela Morris, president and CEO of CareSource; Kate Lamme '80, former senior vice president and general counsel for Standard Register; and Mildred P. Woryk, former vice president of human resources for Tomkins Corporation. Nancy Michaud '80, vice president, general counsel and secretary at Dayton's Huffy Corporation, moderated their discussion.

About the Project for Law & Business Ethics

The Unversity of Dayton School of Law's Project for Law & Business Ethics, which is chaired by Associate Professor Eric Chaffee, was founded in 2007 from a donation by Fran Evans and Jon Hoak for research, teaching and scholarship relating to ethics in the business world. The project's mission is to explore the role of law and lawyers in promoting the ethical operation of business entities and preventing ethical breaches before they occur. The project is designed to improve the legal profession and business community by generating a dialogue on what constitutes the best practices for creating and maintaining an ethical environment in a business setting.

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