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Representation of women on Wisconsin corporate boards surpasses Milwaukee Women inc’s target

The latest annual report by Milwaukee Women inc shows that women hold 26.3% of board seats at Wisconsin’s top 50 public companies.

That’s an all-time high, up from 23.3% in 2021, and surpasses MWi’s goal of 25% by 2025.

Created in 2002, the local nonprofit group is focused on achieving balanced representation of women on corporate boards of directors and has produced research on board gender diversity of the 50 largest Wisconsin-based public companies since 2004.

“MWi has come a long way since the late Betty Quadracci and other forward-thinking executive women recognized the need for an organization dedicated to changing the face and quality of leadership in the Wisconsin business community,” said Kim Stoll, MWi board chair and vice president of sales and marketing for Badger Meter. “We have made progress in furthering our mission to place more women and underrepresented minorities on boards, but there is still work to be done, as we shared in today’s report.”

According to the 2022 report, women of color hold 5.7% of board seats, up from 4.5% in 2021. While this year’s research showed an overall increase, progress remains slow, particularly for Hispanic/Latino women.

Also notable, the number of public companies with three or more female directors saw a record-setting year-to-year increase, jumping from 34% in 2021 to 44% in 2022. MWi points to research indicating that women need to hold at least three seats for boards to realize the benefits of gender diversity, such as better financial performance and more innovative ideas.

When it comes to company leadership, 26.8% of Wisconsin top 50 public company executives are women, up from 23.4% last year.

Over the past two decades, the number of women holding board seats at Wisconsin’s public companies has increased from 30 to 120, while the number of companies with at least three women on their boards has increased from three to 22.

The 50 largest public companies in Wisconsin with the highest representation of women on
their boards of directors. (Chart: Milwaukee Women inc, 2022 report)

For the second consecutive year, Menomonee Falls-based Kohl’s Corp. topped the Wisconsin 50 with six of its total 13 board seats held by women (40%), including two women of color. WEC Energy Group, with three women on its 10-person board, is the only other company with two women of color on its board. Twelve companies have one women of color on their boards and eight have none.

The report also points to the percentage of women on boards at Wisconsin’s top 50 private companies. Women currentlyhold 20.5% of director seats, largely unchanged from 20.7% in 2021. However, Wisconsin exceeds the national average for private companies of 14%.

“As evidenced in our research, companies across our state are taking deliberate action to further diversify their boards of directors,” said Stoll.

She applauded a 2021 move by Nasdaq to adjust its listing rules, requiring all Nasdaq-listed companies to annually disclose board-level diversity statistics using a standardized template and have, or explain why they do not have, at least two diverse directors by 2025/2026.

Stoll called the new requirement a “game-changer in corporate governance that will change the face and quality of board leadership for future generations.”

MWi will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Oct. 11 at The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. The event will feature keynote speaker Toni Townes-Whitley, independent director on the Nasdaq board, former president of U.S. Regulated Industries at Microsoft Corp., and board trustee of United Way Worldwide. Townes-Whitley will discuss Nasdaq’s trailblazing action to diversify boards and intentional strategies for equity and inclusion. MWi will also present The Nasdaq Board with the organization’s inaugural Trailblazer Award. MWi created the award to “recognize a powerful voice fostering change on corporate boards and setting a vision of what modern governance should be.”

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