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Female representation on boards is slowly growing

June 4, 2019
Originally posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

In early March, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery Manager Gloria Moncada was elected chairwoman of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

In announcing her new role, the organization marked the occasion as an important milestone, noting that she is the first female chairwoman in the organization’s 97-year history.

It’s a reminder that the number of women serving on corporate boards across the world is rising, albeit slowly, and the same seems to hold true for several of Baton Rouge’s most prominent boards.

Fifteen years ago, women held just 15.7% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. Today that percentage has risen to females comprising 25.5% of top corporate board seats worldwide, according to Fortune. 

In Louisiana’s Capital Region, business leaders have made conscious efforts to diversify leadership by adding more women to their boards, some of which are at or near the national average.

Women represent a quarter of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Board of Directors, for example, holding 16 out of 63 seats. BRAC, in fact, is among area business boards with the highest female representation. Embracing the business case for diversity, says BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp, is part of the chamber’s five-year plan.

“We began intentionally recruiting board members with diverse personal or corporate backgrounds,” Knapp says. “We want this to ensure a robust dialogue and diversity of thought on behalf of the business community.”

Local health care institutions also boast high levels of women on boards, comparatively speaking. Women make up 38.5% of the representation on the Women’s Hospital board. Meanwhile, women hold 25% of the seats of Baton Rouge General’s board and 19% on the Our Lady of the Lake board. Baton Rouge-based Amedisys, a major public home health company, has two women serving on its nine-member board, putting its female representation at 22%. 

Women are also gaining seats in heavy industry. In addition to Moncada as its new chairwomen, women make up 22% of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association’s 27-member board. 

“I believe diversity on any board helps fuel creativity, expand perspectives and challenge paradigms,” Moncada says. “All of these things drive better decisions and better results.”

Women are also serving on other industrial sector boards, holding, for example, 9% of the seats on the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. 

The state’s largest business lobby—the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry—also has been actively recruiting women, who now make up 16% of the organization’s governing board. That percentage is even higher on the LABI executive committee, where women hold 22% of the seats. 

“We’ve seen great improvement but still continue to improve even more,” LABI President and CEO Stephen Waguespack says. “When I meet with employers around state, I see growing awareness of more females and minorities in leadership. It’s a good thing.”

Still, there are some organizations in which female board representation is scarce—or nonexistent. Not a single woman serves on the nine-member board of one of largest public companies in Baton Rouge: H&E Equipment Services. Another, Lamar Advertising, has one woman on its seven-member board.

Banks also appear to have a smaller percentage of women on boards. Although the executive team at Business First Bank is 18% women, its board of directors remains all male. Two females serve on Investar Bank’s board, which equates to about 14% female representation, and one woman serves on the bank’s holding company board.

Female executives have the experience to serve on boards, says Investar Bank CEO John D’Angelo, but the pool of women in C-suite roles is limited. D’Angelo notes just 6.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs. And many women must balance work with home lives, which can make it difficult to also serve on boards. But that hasn’t stopped Investar from seeking out women for these positions.

“I feel that Investar has more female executive managers than most other banks,” D’Angelo says. “Many banks have created a ‘good ol’ boy’ senior management team. We have not only broken that mold but smashed it. I started Investar 13 years ago with three women who are still executive managers today.”