Led by Nevada, U.S. companies saw rise in number of women on corporate boards in 2019
RENO, Nev. — By now, Dorothy Timian-Palmer has grown used to the all-too-familiar sight: empty chairs in a conference room that, one by one, get filled by men.
“There’s still a lot of meetings that I go to and I’m the only woman in the room,” Timian-Palmer, president and CEO of PICO Holdings in Carson City, said in a phone interview with the NNBV.
There is, however, a routine meeting the PICO Holdings CEO attends that consistently bucks that trend: the company’s board of directors meetings.
Specifically, PICO Holdings has a board that’s 40 percent women — two women to three men. That might not sound like a big deal, but this ranks as the second-highest percentage of female-held board chairs of the 25 Nevada corporations listed on the Russell 3000 Index.
The highest mark? Southern Nevada’s Wynn Resorts, which has four women on its nine-member board (44 percent).
These statistics and others are included in the latest Gender Diversity Index (GDI), published by 2020 Women on Boards, an advocacy campaign that has been tracking progress of women on corporate boards in the U.S. over the last decade.
Since its inception, the campaign has held its namesake goal of meeting or exceeding a mark of 20 percent female directors on U.S. corporate boards by the year 2020.
According to the GDI, the nation reached that goal, as a record 20.4 percent board seats were filled by women in the U.S in 2019. Zooming in on Nevada, the Silver State crossed the 20 percent threshold as well (20.6 percent, to be exact).
Truth is, Nevada has made the largest gains in the percentage of women on boards of any state, adding a total of nine seats between July 2018 and June 2019.
Two years ago, in 2017, the percentage of female corporate directors at Nevada-based companies was a measly 10.9 percent. As of June 30, 2019, the total number of women corporate directors in Nevada was 42 of 209 total board seats to cross the 20 percent plateau.
In other words, in two years, Nevada — amid an economic boom, especially in greater Reno-Sparks — doubled its percentage of women-held board chairs.
“I think Nevada has made great strides in growing as a state and becoming more diversified,” said Timian-Palmer, pointing to Nevada becoming the first state with a majority female legislature as a prime example.
“Everyone needs to keep moving in the direction that they have been moving,” she continued. “You’re seeing that things are changing. You’re seeing a lot more youth come into Nevada, so you’re seeing more diversification. I think it’s all going to keep moving that way, and obviously that’s very positive.”
Along with Wynn Resorts, PICO Holdings was one of two companies in the state — and the only in Northern Nevada — to achieve gender balance in 2019, according to the GDI, which defines “gender balance” as an equal number of men and women corporate directors — or, a difference of one more woman or man in the case of boards with an odd number of directors.
“Just like having any type of minority on a board, everybody brings a different perspective to the table,” Timian-Palmer said. “And so we all see the world through different lenses. And you have different input and might see something different — something everybody else missed.”
The PICO Holdings CEO went on to mention that the Carson City-based company has been ahead of the curve — with a board of two women and three men — for the past decade.
“PICO Holdings had that same ratio 10 years ago, so it’s not unusual that PICO has two women on the board,” she said.
That’s not the case for many Russell 3000 companies in the Silver State. The GDI shows that three Nevada corporations have zero women-held board chairs and nine companies have only one.
Conversely, the most significant gains across the state occurred at Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas Holdings and Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which added two women each. Meanwhile, five companies added one woman and five others now have three or more women on their boards.
Notably, companies headquartered in neighboring California must have at least three women on their boards by the end of 2021 or they risk paying heavy fines under state legislation.
Which begs the question, what can be done not only in Nevada, but also nationwide to better improve board diversity?
For now, keep the conversation going, Timian-Palmer said.
That’s exactly what 2020 Women on Boards continues to do. This past November, the organization held its annual National Conversation on Board Diversity, which was attended globally by 10,000 men and women in more than 30 U.S. and international cities (Las Vegas being one of them). There, panelists discussed strategies for getting more women on boards.
“It’s obviously a benefit to all boards,” Timian-Palmer said of having these discussions. “Everything will get better with more diverse people participating in the process.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.