2018 has been dubbed the Year of the Woman thanks to the record number of female congressional candidates elected in November.
The past few years have felt like the start of a sea change when it comes to women’s equality, with the #MeToo movement also gaining traction and putting sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace in the national spotlight.
Change has been slower, however, at the executive and board level in the business community, both in Los Angeles and nationwide. Of the 436 California-based companies that make up the Russell 3000 Index, only 17.3 percent had women on their board of directors. A 2015 study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated it would take more than 40 years for numbers of women on corporate boards to match the number of men.
There are, however, efforts to speed up that timeline and increase the number of women on corporate boards.
One such measure is California Senate Bill 826, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in September. It requires all publicly traded California-based companies to have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, companies with boards made up of five directors will be required to have at least two female directors, and for boards of at least six members, three will have to be women.
In essence, the law will require companies to take baby steps toward having a leadership structure that reflects the makeup of their workforce. And this doesn’t even begin to address the huge gender imbalance most corporations have at the executive level.
Of the companies on the 2018 Fortune 500 list, only 24 (or 5 percent) have female chief executives.
While many of SB 826’s opponents have vociferously objected to what they deem to be government interference into companies’ affairs, it’s become increasingly obvious that corporations are not likely to take the needed steps toward attaining gender parity on their own.
Despite the trends, the picture for women in California’s business community isn’t entirely bleak. In February, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Kelly Coffey is set to take over for City National Bank Chief Executive Russell Goldsmith when he steps down.
And according to Business Journal reporting from earlier this year, Los Angeles saw nearly 80 percent growth in the number of women-owned businesses over the last 10 years.
Progress will never be easy, but we owe it to ourselves to ensure that the diversity that makes Los Angeles so vibrant and boosts our economy is reflected in the leadership of the companies that call Los Angeles home.
Voters across the country made 2018 the Year of the Woman at the ballot box. Here’s hoping Los Angeles’ businesses community will take proactive steps toward making 2019 the Year of the Woman in corporate leadership.
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