Trustees | Trusteeship

Area colleges’ boards are rich in men

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER   |  March 22, 2015 by Susan Snyder

At Pennsylvania State University, women compose about 46 percent of the student body. But the percentage of women who make decisions about the university’s direction—those serving on the board of trustees—is far less.

Only six women currently sit on the 32-member board, 18 percent.

And some of those women say that’s not enough.

“When we’re too alike in background and perspective, our collective judgment feels right and rational, when it may actually be limited and flat-out wrong,” said Barbara Doran, a private wealth portfolio manager for Morgan Stanley in New York.” Our students need real and visible role models in leadership positions.”

Penn State is by no means an outlier.

Temple University’s 35-member board of trustees has only three women.

At Rutgers, five members of the 15-person board are women.

Nationally, women occupy 30 percent of board seats at private universities and about 28 percent at public ones, according to a 2010 report by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

University boards have remained dominated by white males in part because schools are looking for wealthy donors, and a lot of the country’s wealth is concentrated in that demographic, said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Lack of women who step forward as candidates also figures, some say.

“People are not looking hard enough,” countered Jane Scaccetti, a Temple trustee and CEO of the Drucker & Scaccetti tax CPA firm. “A big part of the problem here is that people don’t realize they have a problem.”

Boards—both corporate and university—should aim for an average of 50 percent women, she said.

“No one has proven to me that there is a better number than actual diversity, which would be 50-50,” she said.

At first glance, Philadelphia-area colleges and universities appear in step with national numbers. Women occupy, on average, 29 percent of board seats, according to a report by the Forum of Executive Women.

That number, however, is skewed by the area’s nun-influenced Catholic colleges, such as Gwynedd Mercy with 62 percent female members, Holy Family with 47 percent, and Immaculata with 72 percent, said Vicki Kramer, president of the Thirty Percent Coalition, a national group working to boost the percentage of women on corporate boards.

“If you take out those, the numbers overall are terrible,” said Kramer, who is involved with the local Forum of Executive Women as well.

Having women on boards leads to a more collaborative approach and more penetrating questions, she said.

“If it doesn’t make sense, they are willing to say, ‘I don’t understand this,’ ” she said.” And often, it’s because it doesn’t make sense.”

Some board leaders say they know they have a problem.

Patrick O’Connor, chairman of Temple’s board of trustees, acknowledged that there should be more women and said a current vacancy—left by the departure of Bill Cosby, who resigned facing decades’ old allegations of sexual assault—will go to a woman.

“We have to do better,” he said. “We haven’t made as concerted of an effort to mine the prospects as we should have, and we’ve done that now.”

O’Connor pointed out that the board chooses 24 of its 36 members; the others are appointed by state officials.

Keith Masser, chair of Penn State’s trustees’ board, said diversity would be a focus as the board prepares to expand to 38 members in July. The trustees will select three of those new members – bringing the total of board-controlled seats to nine. Many of the others are appointed by the governor and elected by alumni and agricultural societies.

“We have an opportunity now,” said Masser, a Schuylkill County potato farmer. “I’m hopeful we can improve our percentage.”

He pointed out that the board also wanted diversity of skills, as well as racial and gender diversity.

Minority members make up only 12.5 percent of private boards and 23.1 percent of public boards, according to the 2010 governing board report.

Penn State has two black members—at least one of whom is scheduled to exit in July—no Hispanics except for the state secretary of education, who is on by virtue of his position, and no Asian members.

“What does that tell the young students of color?” asked trustee Alice Pope, a psychology professor at St. John’s University. “It suggests to them that there are leadership limitations.”

Pope said the board should look at other types of diversity, too. She thinks it needs more educators and more economic diversity.

Doran said the board’s governance committee should develop a process to identify diversity needs each year and make an effort to meet them.

“We have to be much more proactive in reaching out to potential candidates and must develop a process to identify and pursue them,” she said.


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