Women lawyers are not serving in appropriate numbers on corporate boards, bemoans an April 6, 2007 article in the New York Times Business Section. Evidently only 14.6% of Fortune 500 companies counted a woman among their directors in 2006.
That same year women accounted for 17% of law firm partners (presumably equity partners), 16% of law school deans, 14% of chief legal officers at the Fortune 500 companies, and only 7 of the Fortune 500 CEOs. So even though some of these statistics are arguably comparing apples and oranges, that board participation percentage doesn’t look so out of whack with the rest of US business.
The thrust of the article is that due to the "shortage of qualified candidates for directors," it is a good time for women lawyers to spruce up their board skills, which should include, evidently, how to deal with an "overbearing, pompous and unctuous C.E.O" who rules by intimidation.
Over a year ago there was a well-publicized study finding that the more intelligent (actually, educated) a woman in the US is, the less likely she is to be married. In response to that study, reporters across the country exerted themselves by castigating those men for not taking smart women as their wives.
No one interpreted the data to mean that the smarter the woman, the less likely she is to agree to enter into that particular union.
The Times’ take on these board room statistics has that same one-sided press spin. Yes, women could and probably should play a more visible and pervasive role in corporate management, and yes, women lawyers are as smart as those other guys.
But any lawyer with their eyes open over the last few years has seen the publicity, economic and/or legal debacles that perfectly respectable, financially successful corporations have walked into. From Enron to Morgan Stanley to Hewlett Packard, boards have been unveiled as little more than back-scratching yes men (by a very large margin, we now see) happily unfamiliar with what goes into the sausage, their major qualification for board membership often suspiciously looking like their golf handicap.
We also all know that Sarbanes-Oxley was passed primarily to get board members such as these to put their John Henrys on many a line that they would much rather not, and for the express purpose to make them personally liable–financially and sometimes also criminally– for whatever fallout later occurs.
So yes, there are a "shortage of qualified candidates." But is this one of those times when being smart means knowing when to say no?
As Marlene Alva, recently retired from Davis Polk, pointed out: "It is a big-time commitment, and it’s liability-fraught…Lawyers are in a better position than others to judge the perils."