Research and Links of Interest

Gender Diverse Boards Produce Better Results

Numerous independent studies have concluded that companies perform better when women serve on their boards of directors:

Companies with greater than 30% women on their executive teams are significantly more likely to outperform those with 10-30% women, and these companies in turn are more likely to outperform those companies with less than 10% or no women executives (McKinsey & Co. 2020). In addition, gender-diverse leadership contributes to the long-term success of a company. In 2019, a study of 2500 companies showed the percentage of the board that is female contributes 8% to the predicted five-year return on invested capital for the company.

Having three women on the board, rather than just one or none, increases the effectiveness of a corporate board of directors. U.S. companies that began the period from 2011 to 2016 with three or more female directors reported earnings per share that were 45% higher than those companies with no female directors at the beginning of the period. Moreover, for the companies in the study, adding any number of female directors was correlated with higher median increases in earnings per share compared to losing women from the board during the same period (MSCI 2016). Similarly, for profitable firms, a move from no female leaders to 30 percent representation is associated with a 15 percent increase in the net revenue margin.

Current Representation of Women on Boards

Although progress has been significant over the past decade, gender parity remains a distant goal. Overall, 23.3% of board positions are now held by women globally, compared to 20.4% in 2018. Women now make up 27.3% of all board committee members globally, and 2.1% of all board chairs (Egon Zehnder 2020). Women comprise 32% of S&P 500 boards (Spencer Stuart 2022), 27% of Fortune 500 boards (Heidrick & Struggles 2020), and 22.6% of Russell 3000 boards.

New director appointments paint a promising picture. Of the seats filled last year on Fortune 500 boards, almost 41% went to women, a doubling of the percentage over the past decade (Heidrick & Struggles 2021). Similarly, women comprise 46% of the incoming class of directors for S&P 500 companies, compared to 43% last year (Spencer Stuart 2022).

The number of boards with three or more women directors is on the rise. The portion of S&P 1500 companies with three or more women on the board has grown from 20% in 2016 to 44% in 2020 (EY 2020). And, as of Q1 2022, 42% of R3000 companies have three or more women on their boards (50/50 Women on Boards Q1 2022 Findings).

Even with this notable progress, the rate of change is still slow. Women are not expected to hold 50% of R3000 board seats until 2030 (50/50 Women on Boards Q1 2022 Findings).

Senior Women Lawyers: An Untapped Vein of Board Talent

Senior women lawyers constitute a rich, largely untapped vein of board talent. The share of women executives serving as general counsels at S&P 500 companies nearly doubled in the past decade (12.8% in 2007 to 23.8% in 2017) (Pew 2018). And in 2018, women held the top GC role in 28% of Fortune 500 companies.

Meanwhile, the roles and responsibilities of the chief legal officer have continued to expand. In an ACC survey of over 900 CLOs from around the world, 53% of CLOs indicated that they have a reporting line to their organization’s board of directors. Furthermore, 78% of Fortune 500 CLOs report directly to the CEO (ACC 2021).

Women also hold a growing number of senior positions at law firms. Women comprise 21% of equity partners at AMLAW 200 law firms.

The Value of Lawyer-Directors

A recent study on the role of lawyer-directors on the boards of financial institutions is illustrative of the value that lawyers can bring to corporate boards. Since 1999, the portion of banks with lawyers on their board has increased from 40% to more than 70%. The study demonstrated that adding a lawyer to the board of a financial institution produced a 5.7% average increase in the bank’s value—a causal rather than an associative link. The study further found that banks with lawyer-directors are more effective at calibrating their tolerance for risk-taking relative to current economic conditions (Guernsey et al. 2020). 

Other research outside of the banking industry has shown that companies with lawyer-directors experience a 9.5% increase in firm value over corporations with no lawyers on the board. Lawyer-directors play an essential role in helping companies manage the significant rise in litigation and regulation affecting businesses and changes in CEO compensation (Litov et al. 2014).


Ulrika Ekman

Ulrika Ekman, 58, is an experienced board member with a background in financial and professional services, including mergers and acquisitions, governance, and strategic planning. Ms. Ekman currently serves as an

Deneen L. Donnley

Known as a strategic, resourceful, and collaborative leader with a passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion and a wealth of experience as a legal and business leader in fast-paced, dynamic,

Kellye L. Walker

Kellye Walker, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE: EMN), is a seasoned senior executive with over 25 years of experience helping publicly traded companies