Most of us learn to crawl before we walk.
The same can be said of the Thirty Percent Coalition, a group formed out of a New York City summit in late 2011 to address the lack of gender diversity in boardrooms.
Composed of senior business executives across a wide range of industries, national women's organizations, statewide elected officials and institutional investors, the coalition is striving to see that qualified female executives hold 30 percent of board seats across public companies by the end of 2015.
Researchers — including Vicki Kramer, the coalition's board president — consider at least three women on an average board of 10 to be mainstream, or a critical mass. Kramer has written papers on the subject.
"We do feel we're making some inroads, in the collective sense," said Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane, the coalition's executive director. "Progress is slow, unfortunately."
Various research states that women occupy somewhere between 12 percent and 16 percent of corporate board seats.
The coalition has sent letters to companies within the Standard & Poor's 500 Index and the Russell 1000. It has targeted those with no women on their boards, citing studies that show a strong correlation between greater gender diversity, better corporate governance and long-term financial performance.
A 2012 report from Credit Suisse found that for large-cap stocks — those with a market cap greater than $10 billion — the companies with female board members outperformed those without women by 26 percent between the end of 2005 and end of 2011.
For small-to-mid-cap stocks, those with women on the board outperformed those without by 17 percent over the same period.
"Most are interested in a diversity of perspectives," said state Treasurer Rob McCord, a coalition member.
But taking action and selecting more women for corporate boards is a different story, he said.
McCord is advocating for a moderate mandate that would drive more rotation on boards, which would lead to more turnover. He also wants to see term limits.
Members of the coalition have spoken with several of the companies that received letters.
Also, 24 shareholder resolutions have been filed by institutional investors at annual meetings. Sixteen have been withdrawn, said Laurent-Ottomane, calling that an important mark of progress in the coalition's initiative.
Withdrawals are based on agreements between the company and the resolution sponsor.
"It's baby steps," she said. "But it is happening. Shareholder pressure is clearly working. We are chipping away at a large iceberg."
Gender diversity is as important as having a blend of experiences on a board, she added, pushing for more to consider those with backgrounds in human resources, marketing, capital markets and some industry experience.
"Then women float to the top," she said. "If we can change that, the battle is halfway over."
McCord said the 30 percent goal by 2015 is an improbability.
"It's realistic if you've got a broad consensus, including from proxy voting firms, regulators and the majority of CEOs saying it's a high priority," he said.
McCord said he is optimistic that gender diversity is becoming more of a priority among business executives in Pennsylvania.
Women in politics
Much like in the boardroom, men continue to have a stronghold on elected offices.
In Pennsylvania, only 17.8 percent of the state's General Assembly is made up of women. That includes 37 of the 203 House members and eight of 50 senators, according to figures compiled by the Business Journal.
The commonwealth ranks 39th nationally in terms of female lawmakers, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
And there is just one woman at the federal level in Pennsylvania. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz holds one of 20 offices tied to Pennsylvania between the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Colorado has the most gender diversity in its elected offices at 42 percent, according to the CAWP. Louisiana is last at 11.8 percent. Kansas is in the middle of the pack at 23.6 percent.
10 percent club
If critical mass on a board is considered 30 percent, Central Pennsylvania is well off the pace when it comes to female directors.
Of the 26 public companies on the Business Journal’s June 21 list, which ranked public companies by total company revenue, six have no women on their respective boards. Most have just one, while six companies have two or three, according to Business Journal analysis.
Berks County-based National Penn Bancshares Inc., the parent company of National Penn Bank, is the only public company on that list with three women on its board.
In total, there are 253 board directors among these 26 companies. Of those, only 27 are women, which is 10.7 percent.
Catalyst, a New York-based research organization, found that women held 16.6 percent of board seats on Fortune 500 companies in 2012. That was up from 16.1 percent in 2011.
Of the companies on the S&P 1500, women account for 14 percent of board members, according to GMI Ratings.