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Gender Diversity Remains Necessity in the Boardroom

By Alexandra Garfinkle

TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services LLC CEO Roger Ferguson didn’t pull punches about how important diversity is for businesses.

“Diversity is absolutely the number one issue facing boards,” he told the audience at the 2019 Breakfast of Corporate Champions, held by the Women’s Forum of New York.

TIAA’s Ferguson and a slew of other high-profile business leaders took the New York stage on Thursday, Nov. 7 to make the case for gender diversity as a necessity in corporate boardrooms and talk through what it takes to make that diversity materialize.

Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (JLL) CEO Christian Ulbrich was among those who noted that research shows that more diverse companies perform better financially than their more homogeneous counterparts.

Others, like Hershey Co. (HSY) CEO Michele Buck, noted that diversity is particularly important for consumer-focused companies as half or more consumers are women.

For Meg Whitman — storied former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (HPE) and current CEO of Quibi — diversity “leads to better discussions in the boardroom.”

Per BoardEx, a relationship mapping service and sister company of the The Deal, about 5% of CEOs in the S&P 500 are women, while a 2019 Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. report stated the percentage of directorships held by women in the Russell 3000 was about 19%.

To change the tides, Citigroup Inc. (C) CEO Michael Corbat suggested to the audience that a “healthy pipeline” is one solution. Currently two women and two people of color sit on Citi’s eight person board.

Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) executive chairman Hubert Joly stressed the importance of the sponsorship and mentorship of women earlier in their careers.

Meanwhile, Synchrony Financial (SYF) CEO Margaret Keane noted that “it’s important to think about succession planning,” and that she achieved gender parity on her own board by taking “a chance on folks without traditional board experience.”

Ultimately, the group of CEOs circled back on the fact that shepherding and promoting talent women is about what’s best for the company. Citigroup’s Corbat spoke about the October promotion of Jane Fraser to the president role at Citibank.

“Jane is the most capable person of the team we looked at to ascend into my seat, said Corbat.

BoardEx was the official data sponsor of the 2019 Breakfast of Corporate Champions.