by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
A bill that would require public companies headquartered in California to have at least one female on their board of directors is drawing some criticism from at least one female CEO. The legislation passed both houses of the California legislature and has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. If the bill gets signed into law, every company would have to have at least 1 female on their board of directors by 2019, and if there are 5 or more directors, the company will need to have 2 or more female directors by the end of 2021.
Carin Canale-Theakston, the CEO for CanaleComm, a lifestyle and digital health communications company, doesn’t think a government mandate is a correct solution:
The spirit of this legislation is right on target: Boards of directors are woefully under represented by the women and minorities they sell to and serve. In fact, 1 in 4 public companies in California have zero women on their boards. That’s unacceptable.
But this bill — any bill, actually — is the wrong way to fix the problem.
I am a longtime life sciences executive who has worked with hundreds of emerging biotech and digital health companies. I am often in boardrooms or around executive tables where I am an “N of 1,” an incredibly frustrating experience. The irony is never lost on me, considering that women, who are traditionally the chief care decision-makers at home, aren’t given the opportunity to make these decisions at the highest level in the health care and life sciences industries…
…For starters, when building a new company, diversity should be a priority from inception and should continue through all stages of development — long before a public board of directors comes into view. This includes the period when a company raises its first external financing, as it will inevitably be required to give board seats to several of its venture capital partners, the vast majority of whom are men. In addition, board seats often come with requirements around executive-level experience and prior board experience. If women lack C-suite experience, their chances of making it to the board level are greatly diminished.
And let’s not forget about the women executives this bill aims to please. As a female CEO surrounded by female executive peers and clients, I can confidently say that none of us want a seat at any table that is granted solely on the basis of gender.
At best, the bill is misguided. At worst, it’s insulting.
As a gay woman, I’m particularly concerned at how the focus of this bill will affect other marginalized groups. Gender is an important aspect of diversity, but it’s not the only one. We should not elevate women as a priority over ethnicity, age, or sexual identification.
However misdirected, the intentions of this bill are warranted at a time when women are being left out of decision-making at the highest level of the health care and life sciences industries. This not only affects the chances of success for women and their families but, just as important, the industry’s chances of success in developing new and important treatments and products that truly meet women’s needs.
Regulating executive composition of private firms seems to be a popular solution for some who perceive that these companies are incapable of making decisions to be more inclusive, themselves.