Get More Women on Boards: Opinion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate means it's highly unlikely a women will be on a U.S. presidential campaign ticket from either major political party in 2012. That's too bad.

I'm not one who would vote for somebody, or hire them, based on gender alone but when more women occupy positions of power it's a sign of progress. In case you haven't noticed, our leaders in government and business -- generally speaking -- haven't been doing a very good job, and those arenas are largely dominated by men.

Remember when Wall Street, an industry that is overwhelmingly male, was bailed out of financial ruin by the U.S. government? Coincidence? I think not.

Data from a recent study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute backs me up. It showed that shares of companies with a market cap of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed those of comparable companies with all-male boards by 26% worldwide over a six-year period that included the global financial crisis.

That's a wide margin. What accounts for it?

The authors of the report told Bloomberg News that companies with women on their boards tend to be more risk-averse and have less debt on their books. Moreover, corporate boards that include women exercise more diligent oversight. They have better attendance records and they invest more efforts into auditing -- a key role of a corporate board that is too often neglected.

I could bore you with the complexities of the data and the rigor of the analysis that supports these findings, but is that really necessary? I don't know what planet you live on, but here on Earth this all seems like common sense to me. It's abundantly clear that we need more women in the halls of power.

In fact, I'd wager that if men stepped aside tomorrow and women took over all the positions of public power in the world, it would be a dramatically better place to live in short order. I recognize that's not going to happen anytime soon, but as an investor I certainly look for female leadership -- not only in the boardroom but also in the executive suites of the public companies in which I am a stockholder.

Female representation on corporate boards globally increased to 59% last year from 41% at the end of 2005. This is exciting news.

Still, this year more than half of Fortune 1000 companies have either one or zero women occupying a seat on their board of directors, according to the group 2020 Women on Boards, a campaign to increase the percentage of women who serve on public company boards to 20% or greater by 2020. In the U.S., 36% of companies still have not a single woman on their board, according to researcher GMI Ratings.

Right now, women make up just 14.6% of corporate directors at Fortune 1000 companies, and fewer than 4% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. At the same time, women comprise roughly half the U.S. workforce and over half the managers in that workforce. They're responsible for almost 80% of all consumer spending, and there are over 10 million majority-owned, privately held, women-owned firms in the U.S., employing over 18 million people and generating $2.32 trillion in sales.

Meanwhile, over 1,000 directors on Fortune 1000 company boards are over 70 and facing retirement. These (mostly) men are likely to be replaced by a new generation of directors who better reflect the 21st century other words, women. Companies would be smart to lead the way on this rather than get stuck playing catch up and looking out of touch.

Facebook ( FB) made waves when it put its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, on its board before its initial public offering when it came under fire for its all-male board. But who is really leading on this?

Estee Lauder ( EL) has seven women on its 15-member board. KeyCorp ( KEY) has six women on its 16-member board.

There are also Procter and Gamble ( PG), New York Times ( NYT), Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Wells Fargo ( WFC), Hormel Foods ( HRL), Avon Products ( AVP), Bare Escentuals ( BARE), WellPoint ( WLP) and Tupperware ( TUP), all of which have five female directors.

Don't underestimate the importance of board representation. CEOs tend to get blamed when things go wrong at big companies. But at the end of the day, the health of a corporation is the responsibility of its board of directors, and the clubby world of corporate boards should be facing more scrutiny -- starting with their startling lack of female representation.

Then maybe we'll have the option of voting for a woman in the White House in 2016.

Follow me on Twitter @NatWorden.

As of publication the author doesn't own stock in any of the companies discussed in this article.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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