KGOU

Oklahoma’s Corporate Boards Still Have Few Women

Dec 13, 2017

Women comprise at least 20 percent of board members at only four publicly-traded corporations in Oklahoma. Those companies are Devon Energy Corp., OGE Energy Corp., Magellan Midstream Partners and Sonic Corp.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo writes there are several reasons for low representation for women on boards. For one, Oklahoma has a large number of energy-related public companies, which have typically been a male-oriented field. Additionally, board directors tend to be older, white males, and are generally less likely to nominate women for board posts.

Nancy Parsons, CEO and president of CDR Assessment Group Inc., speaks at the 2020 Woman on Boards conference at Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business.
Credit Brent Fuchs / Journal Record

Debbie Fleming, an energy finance professor at Oklahoma City University, is trying to push for more women on corporate boards. She helped organize a 2020 Women on Boards conference at Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business to discuss the issue for the third year in a row. The nonprofit is trying to increase the percentage of women on public-traded board to 20 percent by the year 2020.

Nationally, that goal has been exceeded. Terry-Cobo writes women now hold 21 percent of board seats across the country.

The energy sector nationwide still lags, with an average of 14 percent women on publicly traded boards, among 53 companies on the Fortune 1000 list. The utility sector boasts an average of nearly 23 percent women on boards, out of 42 companies on the Fortune 1000.

Thirteen states exceeded the 20-percent mark, according to 2020 Women on Boards’ website. Oklahoma has 10 firms on the Fortune 1000, with an average of nearly 13 percent women as directors.

Speaking to KGOU, Terry-Cobo says Fleming has seen the gender imbalance level out the classroom, but this still hasn’t affected the number of women on corporate boards.

“More and more women are joining the MBA program and are doing … energy finance since she has been teaching there at OCU. But it takes longer to affect the boardroom,” Terry-Cobo said.

Nancy Parson, CEO and president of C.P.R. Assessment Group, says there is a too small of a funnel for women who will rise through the ranks. She also says there’s an outdated perception of leadership that creates a bias against women.

“She says the perception of what an effective leader is someone who is aggressive and takes risks, and the women who rise to the ranks to become executives are more likely to behave ‘like men,’ with aggressiveness and more risk-taking behaviors,” Terry-Cobo said. “There aren't enough women getting promoted up through the ranks. But she says women are more likely to foster collaboration when they're in leadership roles and according to her research, that's actually more profitable than those leaders who are just risk takers and or who are just aggressive.”

TRANSCRIPT

Jacob McCleland: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland and I'm joined today by Sarah Terry-Cobo. She's a senior reporter at The Journal Record newspaper. Thank you for joining us, Sarah.

Sarah Terry-Cobo: Thanks for having me Jacob.

McCleland: Now I want to talk about a recent story you wrote, Sarah. Women make up at least 20 percent of board of directors on only four of Oklahoma's public corporations. Why are there so few women on corporate boards here?

Terry-Cobo: Well there's a couple of reasons. One, it's a nationwide issue that there are too few women nominated. That's partially because a director is on average a 70-year-old white male. That's also because in Oklahoma, anyway, our state is dominated by energy and specifically by oil and gas drilling companies and their service providers, and the energy sector for decades has been male dominated, but that's changing.

McCleland: Well your story highlights Debbie Fleming. She's an energy finance professor at Oklahoma City University. What's she doing to get more women on corporate boards?

Terry-Cobo: So she has been instrumental in bringing this national conference here to OKC. That's the organization called 2020 Women on Boards. And their goal is to reach 20 percent of women on corporate boards by 2020. And the conference brings attention to that issue. The room there was, the room here, rather, was filled with mostly women. So Fleming says she's hoping that she can get more men to attend the conference. She says it's just as important for men who are on boards to nominate women and be aware of this.

McCleland: What does Professor Fleming see as some of the reasons that there's been such slow progress to get women on the boards?

Terry-Cobo: I think it goes back to that national issue a little bit. Historically, a board member is an elderly white man. So unless they're willing to nominate a woman, then that barrier continues. It's interesting because she says she's seen the gender divide in the classroom balance out rapidly in the last few years. More and more women are joining the MBA program and are doing energy and energy finance since she has been teaching there at OCU. But it takes longer to affect the boardroom and she actually had an interesting anecdote that she wanted to share. She says, I don't want to throw these men under the bus, but when she was nominated to be on a board, she said, you know, they knew that I was qualified. They knew I had the qualifications but even then they were surprised at my expertise. Even though I had been in the banking industry for decades, so I thought that was interesting.

McCleland: You also talked to Nancy Parsons. She's the CEO and president of C.P.R. Assessment Group. She found that only 5.8 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies were women. Why does she believe women aren't promoted to these positions?

Terry-Cobo: She says it's the funnel is too small, basically. So for her it's all about who makes an effective leader. She says the perception of what an effective leader is someone who is aggressive and takes risks, and the women who rise to the ranks to become executives are more likely to behave "like men," quote unquote, with aggressiveness and more risk-taking behaviors. So that's why the funnel is too small, she says. There aren't enough women getting promoted up through the ranks. But she says women are more likely to foster collaboration when they're in leadership roles and according to her research, that's actually more profitable than those leaders who are just risk takers and or who are just aggressive.

McCleland: So could there be more female board members if stockholders were the ones who were really pushing for greater diversity on the board right?

Terry-Cobo: Well that is what Professor Fleming argues. She says women spend at least half of the household income but they don't have equal representation on the companies that they buy from. So just a little bit of shareholder attention to that matter goes a long way she says.

McCleland: We've been talking about corporate boards here. But what about in the nonprofit world? Do we see the same lack of female representation there?

Terry-Cobo: Well not locally at least. At that conference, I sat at a table with four women who were all on nonprofit boards, and one board member from the YWCA says because women make up the majority of their board, she has a different goal. She says she wants to break down that barrier for people of color. Those who are from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds and those women have a different perspective than white women. And that voice is just as important.

McCleland: We've been talking today with Sarah Terry-Cobo. She's a senior reporter at The Journal Record newspaper. Sara, thank you so much.

Terry-Cobo: Great to be here. Thanks for having me Jacob.

McCleland: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can find this conversation at kgou.org. You can also follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @journalrecord in @kgounews.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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