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Today, nearly 75 million women are in the workforce, representing roughly 47 percent of all workers. But did you realize the number of women board directors of major U.S. firms pales in comparison to men? In fact, women board directors have traditionally made up less than 20 percent of U.S. businesses. But 2020 Women on Boards, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, has sought to change that. As a result of 2020 Women on Boards’ efforts, the number of women board directors continues to grow. For the first time ever, the percentage of women board directors among U.S. Fortune 1000 companies now exceeds 20 percent.

From Grass Roots to Greener Pastures

The organization, 2020 Women on Boards, had relatively humble beginnings. In 2010, cofounders Stephanie Sonnabend and Malli Gero grew frustrated with the lack of women board directors among American firms. Not only was the number of women board directors not increasing, the figure seemed to be diminishing. As a result, the two visionaries founded 2020 Women on Boards with a simple mission. That mission was to ensure at least 20 percent of board directors among the nations top firms were women.

speakers of 2020 women on boards
Featured speakers of 2020 women on boards

With initial operations in Boston, the initial efforts of 2020 Women on Boards were fairly regional. However, 2020 Women on Boards quickly became a national presence.

Through national campaigns to raise awareness about women board directors, the organization has forced change. Additionally, 2020 Women on Boards actively provides extensive career guidance, educational resources, and advocacy programs for women board directors. And 2020 Women on Boards conducts annual research and hosts national conventions to further their cause. The organization has now grown significantly as evidenced by its expanding board of directors, who happen to be all women!

A Measure of Accountability – The Gender Diversity Index

One of the most intriguing tools that 2020 Women on Boards has developed is its Gender Diversity Index, or GDI. This proprietary measure provides a quick reference for women board directors and the public about firm diversity at the top. For 2020 Women on Boards, the GDI serves two key purposes. First, the GDI provides a means to track progress in the total number of women board directors. Also, the GDI holds firms accountable for their decisions about women on their boards of directors.

The GDI identifies the percentage of women board directors among all active Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. Based on these figures, 2020 Women on Boards assigns a letter designation based on the firm’s performance. Those with women board directors exceeding 20 percent of the board receive a “W”, which stands for “winning”. Other 2020 Women on Boards’ GDI designations identify firms as “very close”. “token”, or “zero”. This provides a quick reference to assess a firm’s commitment toward gender diversity in leadership.

Recent Achievements by 2020 Women on Boards

In addition to the Gender Diversity Index, 2020 Women on Boards provides other important resources to women board directors. The most notable resource is the National Conversation on Board Diversity conferences that 2020 Women on Boards conducts each year. In 30 cities across the U.S. and abroad, a simultaneous conference is held by 2020 Women on Boards. In addition to serving as a fundraiser for its campaigns and research, it also raises awareness about women board directors. Specifically, the conferences highlight the importance of the role that women in top-level positions play in balanced leadership.

The founders chose 2020 as the target because it represents the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote. But they, however, over-achieved.

In 2017, women board directors represented 20.8 percent of all directors among Fortune 1000 firms. This year, 2020 Women on Boards also reported that 31 percent of all new board directors were women. These accomplishments reflect major milestones for the organization.

 Always Looking Ahead

While progress is great, 2020 Women on Boards is hardly content. Statistics still show that 55 companies reported on the GDI have no women on their board of directors. In fact, 34 companies have never had women board directors since 2020 Women on Boards was founded. Also, 2020 Women on Boards recognize that the lack of women board directors is a bigger problem among smaller companies. Because of this, 2020 Women on Boards is expanding its GDI to evaluate the top 3,000 companies in the U.S. Given its remarkable achievements to date, it will be intriguing to see what 2020 Women on Boards do in the future.

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