Men still dominate boardrooms
Women contend boards must reflect society's diversity
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Women hold 9.5 percent of board seats in automotive-sector public companies in Michigan, the hub of the U.S. auto industry, says Terry Barclay, CEO of the Women's Leadership Forum in Michigan.
That's roughly the same as the state's top 100 companies in general, which Barclay's group studied in 2003.
Although there is not a significant difference between automotive and nonautomotive companies, Barclay says that doesn't mean the results are acceptable.
"One of the challenges that the auto industry faces is the fundamental question: If you're competing on a global level, do you want half of your talent sitting on the sidelines?" Barclay says. "You would want to have the very best people on your team."
General Motors and a number of suppliers have two female directors. Ford Motor Co. has three women on its 15-member board. DaimlerChrysler AG, which is based in Germany, has no women on its two-tiered boards, which include a supervisory board and a board of management.
Among the top 34 suppliers on Automotive News' list of top 150 suppliers to North America whose stock is publicly traded, 9 don't have female directors. Companies without female board members include Autoliv, Delphi Automotive Systems, Dura Automotive Systems, Foamex International, Gentex, Magna International, Stoneridge, Strattec Security and Superior Industries International.
Five of the seven public auto dealership groups have women on their boards. But women hold just five of the 59 seats, or 8.5 percent.
Ford, GM reflect trends
The research firm Catalyst, which monitors workplace issues involving women, says only 16.7 percent of the seats on Fortune 100 public companies are held by females.
"Although the race and gender demographics of shareholders and other stakeholders in U.S. corporations have changed dramatically, the directors of the boards, however, remain predominately white and male," the organization says in a 2004 report. Catalyst does not have recent data on the auto industry.
The Women's Leadership Forum's 2003 study of Michigan women in leadership roles found that about 70 percent of automotive-sector companies had one female board member.
According to the study, Michigan-based companies with relatively large numbers of women in top-paying jobs had more women on their boards.
Kathleen Ligocki, CEO of Tower Automotive and a member of its board of directors, agrees that automotive companies and suppliers do not have enough female board members: "When you look at the CEOs and boards, it took women a number of years to get through the pipeline and be in a place where we would be considered for these positions."
Ligocki calls old-style corporate boards with retired CEOs and their friends "the ultimate old-boy's network."
She says they're behind the times: "Businesses have found independent diverse boards are the best boards."
Difficult to speak
Judith Rosener, a professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, has written books and articles about women in the corporate world.
A lone woman on the board, or even two, doesn't have the influence to make a major change, and it is often "difficult for the women to speak out on a board that is mostly white males," Rosener says. "Until you get three women, it's difficult to have women promoting women."
Female board members say they don't merely want to be "the woman" on a board looking to diversify because of public pressure.
Victoria Jackson, a member of ArvinMeritor's board, says she has turned down spots where she suspected her selection was merely window dressing.
"I asked one CEO why he was adding people, and he said, 'Because my board said I had to have a woman.' I told him I was sure his company was very successful, but it wasn't for me," says Jackson, who has been a member of eight corporate boards.
Jackson is a former CEO of ProDiesel in Nashville, Tenn., an aftermarket commercial vehicle system supplier.
Issue not women, diversity
Some female board members and corporate executives say the issue is no longer only adding women to corporate boards. It's having a board with diverse racial, ethnic and gender backgrounds.
Maryann Keller, a member of the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group and Lithia Motors boards, agrees: "Boards today cannot afford to have window dressing. Today's boards are likely to be dominated by independents. The responsibility and liabilities are far greater, and the workload is greater than 20 years ago."
Keller says, "You do not add someone who has a big name when you know full well that person won't contribute anything to the board. It
doesn't matter what their race, gender or religion is."
Keller, who was on Wall Street for 30 years, says she brought knowledge of how Wall Street works to the Dollar Thrifty board. Her appointment to the Lithia board is recent. Keller served on the Sonic Automotive board until 2004 but chose not to continue when her term expired.
Companies want experts
Some companies seek out women with expertise in areas crucial to the success of their business. Anthony Pordon, senior vice president of UnitedAuto Group, says Kimberly McWaters, the only female member of the company's 12-member board since December 2004, was elected because of her qualifications.
McWaters was CEO of the Universal Technical Institute, which provides training for automotive technicians.
"Kim's background helps us understand the issues as we continue to grow because technicians are critical in this industry," Pordon says.
Ellen Marram, Ford's second-longest-serving board member, says she brings consumer expertise to the Ford board. Marram ran the Tropicana Beverage group as its CEO from 1997-98 and was CEO of Nabisco.
"I'd like to think that I remind the company of the importance of understanding consumers," she says.
Marram, who joined the board in 1988, says Ford initially approached her as a replacement for a female board member who was retiring "but not as someone whose qualification was that she was a woman."
Her credentials are on par with male board members who include several retired CEOs.
Rhonda Brooks has been a board member at ArvinMeritor since 1999. She is president of her own consulting firm, R. Brooks Advisors in Pinehurst, N.C., which advises private-equity firms. She previously was president of the Exterior Systems Business for Owens Corning and held executive posts at Warner Lambert and General Electric.
Brooks says having women on automotive boards is important because the industry and some customers look at "your people diversity."
Jane Warner, president of Plexus Systems in Auburn Hills, a manufacturing software company, has been on the board of Tenneco since last October. She previously was on the board of Federal-Mogul.
Warner says the common denominator for Tenneco's board members is experience, not gender: "On this board there are academicians, industry people and automotive folk. It is the diversity on the board and in the work force that brings power to decision making."
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