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The following is an excerpt from the Women Leading Boards April 2022 Special Report – In Partnership With 50/50 Women On Boards™. Click here to view and download the full report.

Since private company boards are not required to report board diversity metrics, The Lodis Forum, a peer group for woman Board Chairs, recently completed a survey to gather data on board diversity in 249 privately held companies, representing 1695 directors.

The pooled data showed that the surveyed boards had about a quarter of woman directors and a quarter of women in board leadership roles. Segregating the data in various ways illuminates some stark differences between the gender of the senior leadership (CEO and Chairman) and how it impacts gender diversity and women in board leadership roles. In looking at the data, we observed the following key themes:
  • Women Chairs had the biggest impact on gender diversity and women in board leadership roles. Despite the CEO’s gender, boards with a woman Chair had more woman directors and more women in leadership roles than boards chaired by men
  • Those boards with a woman Chair and CEO had the biggest impact on the number of woman directors and women in board leadership roles.Boards with a woman Chair and CEO had more woman directors and more women in leadership roles than any other senior leadership combination
  • Boards with a woman Chair and male CEO, a kind of gender balance in and of itself, had the greatest incidence of gender balance, with three or more women on the board. 53% of boards chaired by a woman and male CEO had gender balance, meaning three or more women on the board, compared to only 32% of boards with a woman CEO and Chairman

Impact of Gender of Senior Leadership (CEO and Chairman) on Board Diversity

Based on the results of this survey, there is a strong correlation between the Chair’s gender and board diversity. While no board achieved full gender parity, meaning 50% men and 50% women, those boards with a woman Chair had 42% women directors, compared to 24% women directors on those boards chaired by men. Additionally, boards with woman Chairs, regardless of the gender of the CEO, had a significant number of women serving in leadership roles (60%), compared to 27% of women serving under a male Chairman. Looking at the data segmented by the gender of the senior leaders (CEO and Chairman), there was almost no difference between the percentage of women serving in board leadership roles with a woman Chairman. There was, however, a fairly large difference when comparing the percentage of women in board leadership roles with a male Chairman.

Gender Balance

Although, it is still a work in progress for our respondents, 29% of boards have already achieved gender balance, meaning three or more women on the board. We explored how the gender of the senior leadership, meaning the CEO and Chairman, impacts the frequency of gender balance. In analyzing the gender balance in the boardroom, more boards had gender balance under a woman Chairman (43%) than those chaired by men (23%), regardless of the gender of the CEO In those boards chaired by men, 23% of the boards had gender balance. When broken down to explore the gender of the senior leaders, 23% of the boards with a male CEO and Chairman had gender balance, and slightly more boards had gender balance (27%) with a woman CEO and male Chairman.

Gender of Senior Leaders (CEO and Chairman) and the Impacts on Gender Diversity

As mentioned above, boards chaired by women had 42% women directors, compared to 24% women directors on boards chaired by men. Boards with both a woman CEO and Chairman had 46% women directors, followed by boards with a CEO and Chairman of different genders. In last place, at 23% women directors were those boards with both a male CEO and Chairman.
The Lodis Forum supports all initiatives to get more women in the boardroom, an important first step to board diversity. However, The Lodis Forum also believes that board leadership roles, meaning Chair, Vice-Chair, and Committee Chair, also need to be diverse. Without women and men working side-by-side to set agendas and facilitate discussions, the true impact of board diversity will not be fully realized. Based on the survey results, if boards aim to reap the benefits of a gender-diverse board both in leadership roles and gender diversity, placing a woman in the Chairman role is an effective strategy to increase board diversity at all levels.

  • Meghan works as a consultant focused on family and corporate governance and served as the director of the family business center at St. Joseph’s University. She is a founding member of the Directors Association—Philadelphia Chapter and founded The Lodis Forum for female board chairs.