The legal push — and moral imperative — to mandate more women be placed on boards

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Mar 8, 2020 at 6:00 am
Editor’s Desk

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin admits she wishes she didn’t have to do this — didn’t have to introduce a bill in the New Jersey General Assembly that mandates companies must have women on their boards of directors. She knows she doesn’t have a choice.

“I would be thrilled if all the corporations just said, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Pinkin (D-Edison) told ROI-NJ. “But the data has shown that’s not the case.”

The data also shows how a similar law had the intended consequences.

Pinkin is one of the sponsors of A1982, which would require New Jersey public companies — by the end of 2021 — to have at least one women on their board if the corporation has four or fewer total directors; two female directors if the corporation has five directors; and at least three female directors if the corporation has six or more directors.

Companies that fail to do so will face fines that start at $100,000 and quickly escalate.

It’s the only way, Pinkin said, that women will begin to get an equal opportunity at the highest levels of business. More importantly, she said, it’s the only way to begin changing gender bias and microaggressions that are preventing them from doing so.

“Many men still don’t actually see women in leadership roles,” she said. “So, they still see women as an admin and not an executive. It’s these microaggressions that keep coming up — that a woman isn’t an equal — that keeps women where they are. It’s hard to have the confidence to go forward if people are always second-guessing not only what you do, but if you even belong.”

Pinkin said it could take as much as 40 years to reverse this thinking organically. She points to California to say it can be done overnight.

A similar bill was passed in California, where public companies had to have at least one woman on their board by the end of 2019. It produced the desired impact.

“Even though (companies) kicked and screamed and said, ‘We don’t need it,’ and, ‘What’s the point’ — and they threatened to sue — they actually say 90% of the companies are in compliance, which is very exciting. The point is: It can be done.”

And, legally. Pinkin said the bill would survive a legal challenge because it does not require a man to lose his seat, but, rather, for companies to add seats if openings don’t occur.

Pinkin first introduced the bill in 2018. She said she delayed pushing it forward because she was hoping momentum would occur naturally. That appears to have been a solid call.

Recent studies have shown women still aren’t getting opportunities at the highest level — and that male executives are more likely to be forced out because of inappropriate behavior rather than poor performance. In addition, laws that would favor workplace issues for women have been passing, including equal pay for women in jobs — even if they took a layoff to have children.

Pinkin said the law would help women one step below the top levels the most, as it would force companies to search to discover all the qualified women that are just below the surface of top leadership. It’s a search, she said, companies have never had to make.

It’s part of the process, she said. And she makes this point clear: She is not anti-male executive. In fact, she said most men have no idea how they are holding back women.

“When we think about companies that only have men at the top, it’s not an evil plot,” she said. “They don’t know what they don’t know. They’re not even aware that they have this bias, because it’s just their bias. So, having women on the corporate board hope to change those type of policies.”

Pinkin said she knows of similar bills in other states, and she hopes the bill will be introduced in the spring.

After all, she said, it’s not a matter of catching up to California — it’s a matter of catching up to the world. According to the bill, other countries have long ago addressed the lack of gender diversity — and specifically points to Norway, which has had such a policy since 2003 and now has quotas mandating women fill 30% to 40% of board seats.

“We always think we’re advanced, but we’re not always as advanced as we think we are sometimes,” she said.