California becomes the first state to require a woman on corporate boards after Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sunday. The bill will require public companies to have at least one woman on its board of directors as a way to advance gender equality.
The SB 826 bill presented by Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, Toni Atkins and D-San Diego was specifically designed to assist in combat bias against experienced, qualified female employees in the workplace. “Yet another glass ceiling is shattered, and women will finally have a seat at the table in corporate board rooms,” Jackson said Sunday on Twitter expressing her gratitude towards the governor for signing the bill. “Corporations will be more profitable. This is a giant step forward for women, our businesses and our economy.”
Not only did Gov. Brown sign the bill, but he also included a message with the bill’s signing. “There have been numerous objections to this bill and serious legal concerns have been raised,” the governor said in a letter to the state Senate, a copy of which he sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that indeed may prove fatal to its ultimate implementation. Nevertheless, recent events in Washington, D.C. — and beyond — make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message.”
Brown continued saying, corporations continue to be “considered persons” for quite some time, even before women were allowed to vote. “Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include the people who constitute more than half the ‘persons’ in America,” the governor said.
Women were not the only ones applauding as advocacy groups were also thrilled for the bill’s signing on Sunday. “We’ve seen a lot of companies in the tech world struggle to diversify,” said Bruce Mirken, media relations director at Greenlining Institute. “You have to think that if those voices were more present in their boards of directors, they’d be doing better.”
By the end of 2019, the legislation mandates that all publicly traded California companies have at least one woman on the board and by the end of 2021, it mandates that at least two women must be on boards with five directors. For companies with six directors, there will need to be at least three women required. Companies that refuse to comply will be fined $100,000 for their first violation.
According to The Mercury News, Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman for the Republican National Committee and a San Francisco lawyer, was opposed to the legislation, but did note that she, too, has experienced gender discrimination in her own legal profession. While she agreed that “it would probably be better for American businesses if they had more diversity on their boards — women and minorities,” she said that “having the government mandate that is completely ridiculous and counterproductive to how businesses should be run.”
Dhillon warned on Sunday regarding increased litigation, saying: “When you have mandates, you’re going to have every woman who gets that board appointment question whether she got that on her own merits.”
However, the bill’s co-author, Jackson, notes it was necessary because she wasn’t seeing any progress. “Sometimes in order to change culture, you have to have legislation,” Jackson said earlier this month. “Would I prefer companies would have recognized they are more successful, more productive, more profitable” when they add women to boards, she asked. “Absolutely. But it didn’t happen.”