Focused Effort to Narrow the Gender Gap on Corporate Boards BY ELIZABETH OLSON, photo by Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times
Linda Rabbitt, the founder of the Rand Construction Corporation, at a board meeting of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
The dearth of women on corporate boards has been a persistent issue for decades. Yet little has changed over the years, despite much public hand-wringing over the stubborn gender gap.
Men hold most of the 5,488 board seats at American companies, according to the Alliance for Board Diversity, a group of leadership organizations. Women lag at 16.6 percent, a level that has remained nearly constant since 2004, when the alliance started monitoring the figures.
It has been a Sisyphean challenge to nudge the numbers and create a clearer path for women to obtain seats as corporate directors. Even as more women become chief executives and studies highlight the paucity of female directors, boards remain a largely male preserve.
The latest effort to attack the problem, a program at George Washington University School of Business, is trying a two-pronged initiative: helping women make it onto the short lists to be considered for open seats and training women to be ready to step into those posts.
The approach is being supported by influential women, including financing from Linda Rabbitt, founder of the Rand Construction Corporation, a construction firm based in Washington with more than $263 million in annual revenue.
The program, called On the Board, has 15 female executives in its first class, most of whom have little or no experience sitting on corporate boards but are top managers at major corporations.
The program may soon be chalking up its first success story. One of its first fellows, Anita M. Sands, a group managing director at UBS Wealth Management Americas, was nominated and elected on Tuesday to the board of the global security software giant Symantec Corporation.
The scarcity of women at the highest corporate rung struck Ms. Rabbitt last year when she realized she was the only woman being honored at an awards ceremony for board directors.