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Female Directors More Likely Than Men to Serve on Multiple Boards

May 25, 2016

With diversity at the forefront of board recruiting, experienced females are in high demand. An Equilar study of S&P 500 board members conducted for The New York Times found that female directors are more likely than their male counterparts to sit in multiple boardrooms.

A “multi-boarded” director is just like it sounds—an individual that sits on more than one board of directors simultaneously. In the S&P 500, the percentage of directors fitting this description increased from 18.2% in 2011 to 20.0% as of fiscal year end 2015.

In each year of the study, female directors have been more likely than males to serve on multiple boards, with the trend of multi-boarded female directors accelerating more quickly as well. In 2015, 24.4% of female directors sat on multiple boards, while 19.0% of male directors were multi-boarded. This follows suit with historical trends—female directors historically have been more likely to sit on multiple boards than males.

The raw numbers tell a deeper story. Overall, the number of unique female directors in the S&P 500 has increased from 727 in 2011 to 913 in 2015, and the number of male directors decreased from 3,948 to 3,846 in that time frame. However, the number of females on multiple boards has grown from 151 to 223—a 47.7% increase—while the number of multi-boarded male directors increased from 699 to 730, or just 4.4%.

Serving on multiple boards is commonplace in the S&P 500, and indeed, having the perspective of directorship at multiple companies can be a strategic asset for a board. However, shareholders and proxy advisors have shared concerns against multi-boarding practices in recent years, and “overboarding” policies call into question the accountability and time commitment of these busy board members.

The discrepancy between the increase of multi-boarded directors vs. overall director seats can also shed light on the difficulties prospective individuals face when seeking a board seat. Previous board experience is highly prized amongst board candidates, giving sitting directors a leg up over new prospects. This, along with the recent focus on boardroom diversity, places women with board experience at the top of many board recruitment lists.

Gender diversity has cemented itself as a focus in board recruiting, with diversity touted as a vital component to maintaining a balanced and well-rounded boardroom to drive company strategy and performance. The question remains whether the increase in gender diversity is expanding the field of female directors or simply adding more of the same directors to new board seats.

The data in this article is powered by Equilar BoardEdge, which not only includes information on 140,000 directors and executives qualified for board service, but also more than a dozen categories about each board member’s background and leadership experience. The platform’s defining feature is a networking tool that clearly displays how board members are connected to each other.

For more information on BoardEdge, or to request a demo, click here.

For more information on Equilar’s research and data analysis, please contact Dan Marcec, Director of Content & Marketing Communications at Allyson Hahn, research analyst, contributed to this post.

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