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March 18, 2021

Pearl Meyer Data Show Long-Term Improvement in Board Gender Diversity

Survey shows a clear need for policies and processes to address underrepresentation at the senior management level

NEW YORK—March 18, 2021—Pearl Meyer’s recent proxy analysis on board of directors’ composition shows the number of female directors on boards in the Top 200 companies of the S&P 500 has risen steadily from 19% in 2010 to 32% in 2020.[1] Among that same Top 200 group, the number of boards with at least two women has increased from 75% in 2010 to 96% in 2020. The numbers have also dramatically jumped for boards with at least three women, increasing from 29% in 2010 to 75% in 2020.

However, this increased focus and demonstrated action at the board level has not led to increases in female representation in executive and senior-level leadership roles, which is at 28%, according to results of a recent Pearl Meyer survey on diversity, equity, and inclusion[2], while the overall female workforce representation in the same survey is 48% on average. The survey also notes the representation of minorities in the executive ranks and found that only 10% of executive and senior level positions were held by minorities, while the overall workforce representation among surveyed companies is 23%.

More than 80% of respondents indicated that D&I, gender pay equity, and closing the gender pay gap are either “important priorities” or “among our highest priorities,” which is up from 66% in the previous year’s survey. Over 50% maintain a D&I dashboard of information for management and just 39% provide any D&I-related training. Companies are clearly demonstrating interest in improving their cultures through diversity, equity, and inclusion, but the data indicate there may be less clarity about how to actually create change.

“We advise companies to begin with a pay equity study, which will provide a baseline understanding of where your company currently stands,” said Beth Florin, managing director at Pearl Meyer and lead for the firm’s Survey and Employee Compensation Practice. “While it’s rare for companies to have a significant equity issue, if one exists it is the first thing that must be actively addressed. Further, the data from an equity study can provide insight on where and how a company might set measurable goals to improve diversity and increase representation at senior levels. We’ve seen representation of female directors on boards has shown great progress because very specific goals were laid out and companies then followed through.”

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