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Bobbi Liebenberg Remarks at 2015 Luncheon

I’m Bobbi Liebenberg, Chair of DirectWomen and I want to welcome you to our 6th Sandra Day O’Connor Board Excellence Award Luncheon.  It is wonderful to see so many in this room who share our commitment and passion to increase the representation of women, and, in particular, women attorneys, on the boards of public companies. 

We have much to celebrate today.  First, congratulations to the extraordinary graduates of our 2015 Board Institute Class, who now join the ranks of our many distinguished Alumnae.  The Institute provides a highly respected credential of board readiness and we are very proud of the fact that 24% of our Alumnae now serve as independent directors on large company boards. 

We also celebrate the presentation of our inaugural Board Diversity Award to General Electric and Procter & Gamble.  These companies have demonstrated that creating a diverse board is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business.  They have recognized that having more women in the boardroom contributes to better financial performance, improved decision making and an increased pipeline of talented women in leadership and executive roles. 

Today we also confer our new Rising Star Award on Deborah Platt Majoras.  In addition, we will celebrate this year’s Sandra Day O’Connor Board Excellence Award recipients - - Pamela Thomas Graham, Frances Fragos Townsend and Ann Veneman.  All of these highly accomplished honorees, about whom you will hear later, provide tangible proof of the valuable contributions women lawyers can make to a board and underscore the importance of our mission. 

And, our work is more important than ever.  Only 19% of the directors of S&P 500 companies are women, and just 3% are women of color.  Among the companies included in the Russell 3000, only 13% of board members are women and 32% of these companies have no women directors.  Distressingly, it has been estimated that women will not achieve parity with men on corporate boards until the year 2042.

Rather than focus on these dismal statistics, we should celebrate today some of the real progress that is being made.  For example, 

  • 26% of S&P 500 companies now have boards comprised of at least 25% women directors;
  • 30% of newly appointed independent directors in the S&P 500 last year were women, which is double the rate from 2008;
  • Large institutional investors and shareholders are using their economic clout to make gender diversity on boards a priority; and 
  • The on-going international effort to increase the diversity of boards is having a significant spillover effect here in the United States.

DirectWomen has a very ambitious agenda to move the needle and increase the percentage of women directors. We will continue to act as an important resource to help better position Board Institute Alumnae and other qualified women attorney candidates for board service. 

We will continue to hold regional programming around the country to de-bunk the myths that there are not enough women to serve on boards and that lawyers are not well-suited for board service.  To the contrary, having experienced women attorneys on corporate boards is a win-win for everyone involved. 

We will also continue to leverage our power with that of our strategic partners to press nominating committees and search firms to achieve better results in the placement of women on boards.  

And, with your generous support, DirectWomen will continue to raise its profile and expand its outreach. 

Given the fact that women comprise almost half of the U.S. workforce, control more than 50% of all stock ownership, and make over 86% of all consumer purchasing decisions, it is long past time for the boards of public companies to reflect the gender diversity of their employees, shareholders and customers.  Board diversity is not a women’s issue.  It is a business imperative and there cannot be any more excuses for a lack of a critical mass of women on boards. Today’s awards recognize companies and women directors who are changing this paradigm.  

Success Stories

Ann Harlan

Ann joined the board of the Gorman-Rupp Company in 2009. Learn more

Deborah Golden

Deborah Golden joined the board of Midland States Bancorp, Inc. in 2015. Learn more

Kimberly Ellwanger

Kimberly joined the board of Heritage Financial Corporation and Heritage Bank in 2006. Learn more