SEC Chair on Board Diversity

Last month, SEC Chair Mary Jo White was honored at the 2015 National Association of Women Lawyers Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon. Her remarks, titled “The Need for Proactivity,” found here,  focused on the “importance of diversity in the legal world” and called on those in the audience to “create and cultivate opportunities for the women of tomorrow.”

While her remarks were focused on the legal profession, I found one quote in her remarks particularly applicable to the call that many institutional investors are making for increased gender diversity on corporate boards. When discussing her experience as a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee she said:

“The year was 1993.  And, for the first time in my career, I was in a high-powered setting where the women outnumbered the men.   Eventually, I came to see a significant difference in the dynamic of these meetings.  The women were the ones who spoke freely and forcefully advocated their ideas, while the men seemed more reticent about expressing their views.”

Her experience supports the notion that the presence of women change group dynamics and conversations. And, that the more women in the room, the more the conversation changes.

Many have argued that women are often more willing to question the way things have always been done than their male counterparts, and that this is even more successful when they are not the only woman in the room. This change in conversation is exactly what many corporate boards need to be more effective at fulfilling their duties to shareholders.

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