Women Are Gaining Ground in Philly’s C-Suites — but Where Are Women of Color?

A new report looks at gender diversity among Philadelphia's business leaders. But it fails to say anything about minorities.

Photo credit: Ethan Schwartz via Flickr.

Photo credit: Ethan Schwartz via Flickr.

Women are making it to the top of Philadelphia-area corporations, universities and healthcare systems—but they’re getting there slowly.

That’s according to the 2016 “Women on Boards” report released last week by the Forum of Executive Women and PwC.

The analysis looked at Greater Philadelphia’s 100 largest public companies and found three key points from the 2014-2015 year:

  • Of 60 board openings, 20 went to women.
  • Companies with no women on their boards decreased from 35 in 2014 to 27 in 2015 — a 23 percent change for the better.
  • Companies with at least 25 percent of their boards made up of women increased from 14 to 19 — a 36 percent improvement.

More diverse boards produce better results for companies, according to the report. Companies with women on their boards show an understanding of the demographics of their customers and shareholders and a willingness to think more broadly in an increasingly competitive global market, the report said. And citing research from Credit Suisse, the report also states that companies with women on their boards perform better financially.

While the 2016 report reveals positive trends, the results are “not enough to alter the overall picture of gender imbalance,” the report said. “In 2015, women held just 14 percent of all board seats — up slightly from 13 percent the year before.”

Regional Trailblazers and Tortoises

Leading Philadelphia-area companies with 54 percent of its board made up of women is Wilmington-based student loans management company Navient. Other public companies with 25 percent or more women on their boards include Campbell Soup Co., AmerisourceBergen, CubeSmart, Five Below and Urban Outfitters.

Of the largest 100 public companies, 27 have no women on their boards. These include Sunoco Logistics, Republic Bank, and J&J Snack Foods.

Only six regional companies from the top 100 list have female CEOs: AgroFesh Solutions, American Water Works, Artesian Resources, Campbell Soup, JetPay and NutriSystem.

Pharmaceutical wholesale giant AmerisourceBergen, Comcast and Aramark were respectively ranked first, second and fourth in the report for bringing in the most revenue in 2015.

AmerisourceBergen had three female board seats of 10 seats total, three female executives of 10 total, and no female top earners at the company.

Comcast has two women on the board out of 12 total seats and zero female executive of seven total executives. And of the six top earners at Comcast, none of them are women.

At Aramark, one woman sits on the board of 13. There are two female executives of seven seats total and one female top earner in the top six.

Eds & Meds

In education for 2014, the last year for which public records are available, women held 29 percent of university board seats, 35 percent of university presidencies, and 28 percent of the top-earner spots at four-year colleges.

Temple was at the very bottom of the 20 Philadelphia-area schools listed, with only 8 percent of its board made up of women. None of the university’s top earners were women.

Women had the strongest showing at Arcadia University, occupying 54 percent of board seats and making up 80 percent of the university’s top earners.

The situation with the healthcare system is bleaker.

In 2014, women held 24 percent of hospital board seats, 33 percent of CEO positions at healthcare systems, and 21 percent of top-earner spots at hospitals.

Camden’s Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center had the most women on its board, and three of the 18 healthcare systems listed had two women in their top 5 most compensated people — Aria Health, Main Line Hospitals and Temple University Hospital.

Women of Color in the C-Suite

While the Forum for Executive Women aims to “promote the value of gender diversity on boards and in executive suites,” it’s not clear how they plan to get there without highlighting the specific challenges that minority women, including women of color, women with disabilities, immigrants and veterans, face in rising amongst the ranks.

Women of color, for example, tend to hit a concrete ceiling in business, the Wall Street Journal reports, for a variety of factors that most of their white counterparts don’t experience.

“While conversations about gender equality at work are becoming more common, conversations about race, opportunity and fairness remain difficult at best,” said the WSJ.

Philadelphia is a majority-minority city, with women of color outnumbering their white counterparts, according to the 2015 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

A quick scan of the Forum’s reports dating back to 2003 reveals that back in 2003 the organization did include hard facts about women of color in the region, but over time, mention of this group has declined. In 2003, the Forum included data points about women of color throughout the report, but by 2013, the phrase “women of color” was mentioned once. “Women of color were barely represented in the ranks of corporate directors and executives,” the line reads. No figures were included to support this statement.

There was no mention of female minority groups in the 2015 and 2016 reports.

So why has the Women on Boards report gradually left women of color out?

“We focus on the filings that are with the SEC and they don’t always have pictures and so it wasn’t something we were able to discern from the filings of the companies,” Deanna Byrne, a PwC Partner and Forum member largely involved with putting the report together, told me.

“I have seen that in other publications that I’ve read, but we didn’t do the data ourselves so we didn’t want to report on it because we couldn’t validate it,” she added.

Are companies thinking about women of color?

“I think they are,” said Byrnes. “I don’t have tangible evidence, but what I’ve seen in my own experience I believe they are.”

But reports from previous years have included statements like the following from 2009:

“For the specific data points of ‘C-Level’ officers and the women of color assessment, filings data were augmented with data from other sources, such as annual reports and company press releases. Women of color are defined as non-Caucasian women identified as African American, Asian, Hispanic, or of Latina heritage.”

And from 2003:

“In counting women of color, we considered women who are of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Latina heritage. Information on ethnic composition of board members and executives is not available from companies. The data presented here were gathered from publicly available resources or from the first-hand knowledge of Forum members.”

Mayor Jim Kenney attended the leadership breakfast where the report was presented and acknowledged the need to include women of color in the discussion.

“Companies that miss the diversity opportunity will be left behind,” he said. “I’m not [just] talking about including more women in the C-suite, but also including women of color. Women of color represent just 1 percent of women serving on corporate boards.”

A majority of Kenney’s top appointees are women. His administration also created the city’s first Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

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