By Iris Hentze
Throughout 2018 and into 2019, gender diversity in the workplace has been an issue on the minds of many. From the private sector to courts and state legislatures, the lack of women serving in positions of power across all professions continues to be a hot topic.
In 2018, some state legislatures were able to make significant progress toward more gender-equal representation. Nevada will be the first state with near gender-parity among its legislature with women making up 50.8 percent of all legislators. Colorado isn’t far behind with women representing 45 percent of its state legislators for 2019. And Oregon and Washington round out the top four state legislatures for gender diversity with women making up 41.1 percent and 40.1 percent of all legislators in each state, respectively, in 2019. Despite these gains, women still only make up 28.5 percent of all state legislatures nationwide.
Gender diversity has been considered by some state legislatures in recent years as they have explored different legislative solutions to the lack of female representation in the workplace. In 2018, California became the first state to require every publicly held corporation in the state to have a minimum of one woman on its board of directors by the end of 2019.
The act requires corporate boards to have a minimum of one female director if the total number of directors is four or fewer; two female directors if the corporation has five total directors; and a minimum of three females directors if the corporation has six or more total board members. The California Secretary of State’s Office will keep an annually updated list of all corporations in the state subject to the law on its website and will have the authority to impose fines on those who are out of compliance.
While the California Board Diversity law is the most binding, several other states have passed nonbinding resolutions encouraging companies to diversify their boards. In 2015, the Massachusetts Legislature passed Resolution S 1007, which seeks equitable and diverse representation on boards by encouraging all companies doing business in the state to adopt policies and practices designed to increase gender diversity on their boards, as well as to publicly disclose the number of women who serve on their boards.
Additionally, in 2015, the Illinois General Assembly passed HR0439, encouraging publicly held corporations with nine or more board of director seats to include a minimum of three women; corporations with at least five, but fewer than nine, seats to have a minimum of two women; and every corporation with fewer than five seats to have a minimum of one woman on its board.
During the 2017 legislative session, Pennsylvania passed HR 273, urging every business in the state to reach a membership of women at 30 percent of all board members by 2020. The resolution also urges businesses to publicly track their progress toward this goal in the intervening years.
Looking ahead to 2019, New Jersey is already set to consider this issue, as legislation has been introduced and sent to its first committee for hearing. NJ A 4726, which is similar to the legislation passed in California in 2018, would require publicly held corporations to appoint a minimum of one female director in the short term and would then build on that requirement based on each corporation’s total number of board members in subsequent years. It will be interesting to see if any other states consider either binding or nonbinding measures to encourage corporate board gender diversity in 2019.
Iris Hentze is a policy associate in the NCSL Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.