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Nila Betof, president of the Forum of Executive women (courtesy photo).

Nila Betof, president of the Forum of Executive women (courtesy photo).

Thirty-three of the top 100 public companies in the Philadelphia area have no women on their boards of directors. This shocks Nila Betof, but it doesn’t really surprise her.

“One does wonder why those companies today still have no women on their boards,” said Betof, president of the Forum of Executive Women, a local group that advocates for women leaders in the workforce.

The Forum puts out an annual report examining the number of women on boards and in executive positions at the top 100 public companies by revenue in the Philadelphia area. Its most recent report shows that in 2012 women held 103 of 829, or 12 percent, of public company board seats in the Philadelphia area. Nationally, women hold about 15 percent of public company board seats.

According to the American Community Survey, women represent nearly 50 percent of the workforce in Philadelphia.

“We’re still clearly behind. Whatever numbers you use we don’t see the kind of participation from women on boards that you would expect,” said Betof. “Women have been in the workforce since World War II, and we never left the workforce, but it really has only been since the ’80s to ’90s that women have begun to move up.”

The 2012 total of 103 females on boards represents a 30 percent increase from 2005. That said, the percentage of women on boards has remained largely stagnant, hovering around 10 percent over the past 10 years. While the number of women has increased, so has the number of board seats. As Betof  put it: “This is very slow growth, agonizing slow growth.”

In fact, the percentage of women on boards grew more in the beginning of the 10-year period. “At this rate I’m not going to live to see this happen,” said Vicki Kramer, principal of V. Kramer & Associates who is a member of a national organization that has as its goal 30 percent female representation on public company boards.

Why has growth been so slow? Betof offered explanations that have been circulated for years: simple and pure gender bias; men having stronger networks and more time for networking opportunities; the fact that existing board members, who are predominately male, tend to use their networks to suggest other male candidates for open board seats. But, Betof said, the other trend that is happening is that by and large women are entering into support positions, such as human resources, at a much higher rate than their male colleagues. This means they aren’t getting the line experience needed to secure higher level, managerial positions.

“Now, there are women who are targeting board positions and are really working hard on building their profile, their connections, senior line positions,” Betof said. “There are many women in the pipeline who would be appropriate board candidates. It’s a matter of identifying them and matching them.”

Big companies often use search firms to find board members, a process that Betof finds more favorable toward women and minorities than the alternative, which was the old-boy network.

“In the past it was men who were really just suggesting other men that they knew. It was a relatively closed situation,” Betof said. “Now, at least with the recruiting firms, hopefully what they’re doing is looking at a broader pool of possible board candidates and that should be a group that includes more women and other minorities.”

But Kramer said search firms have not necessarily “been a very good contributor to this in the past.” The firms are hired to find the kinds of people that a company wants, “but if a company doesn’t make it clear they want a diverse slate they often don’t get it.”

Smaller companies tend to resort to their networks to find viable board candidates because they can’t pay the large fee for a search firm.

“For the companies that don’t use search firms, if they use the same networks that they’ve always used, then those people tend to know the same people, who tend to be white males,” Kramer said.

Only eight companies featured in the Forum’s most recent report had three or more female board members. Many of the companies featured do not have a formal diversity policy in place, including some companies that have three or more female board members. South Jersey Industries Inc., which just won an award for the diversity of its board, does not have a written diversity policy. But the company’s Nominating and Governance Committee completes an annual diversity assessment of the board that looks at gender, race, age and geography. Joanne Brigandi, who handles public relations for the company, said the board uses a recruiting firm when looking to fill empty board seats and “they make a point to tell the search firm that they’re looking for diversity.” Currently, the company’s board has three female members.

The Forum report deals only with public, for-profit companies. There’s currently no group that keeps a comprehensive list of the number of women on nonprofit boards in the Greater Philadelphia area. The Philadelphia Inquirer compiles a weekly “On the Boards” report in its Business section. And the Forum plans to add big area non-profits to their report next year. Kramer suspects that women representation is higher on non-profit boards than public company boards, but says the numbers are probably still lower than they should be. A group that included Kramer and former Philadelphia City Councilwoman Happy Fernandez took an initial look in 2012 at representation among the big non-profits in the area and found that the categories of education and medicine “have a disturbingly low percentage of women on boards and in exec positions,” Kramer said.

As for the Forum’s report, some surprising Philly finds: Comcast Corporation had only one woman on its board in 2012 while Urban Outfitters Inc., had zero. In fact Urban Outfitters failed to increase the number of women and minorities on its board for three years in a row. Urban Outfitters, which has received criticism for its lack of diversity over the years, added its first female board member in June 2013: CEO Richard Hayne’s wife, Margaret.

For its part, Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed “Women on Boards” legislation, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, requiring contractors looking to do business with the city to disclose demographic information about their board members and executive staff. Currently, the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity is in the early stages of putting the procedures in place to begin collecting and analyzing that data.

Below are three pages extracted from the Forum’s 2013 report, which detail the number of women on boards and in exec positions.