Dun & Bradstreet Holdings was the only major company to debut with an all-male board when it went public last year, a sign that corporate America has increasingly yielded to pressure to improve diversity among its directors.
The percentage of female directors rose to 24% among the companies with the 25 largest U.S. initial public offerings last year, according to an annual analysis from 5050 Women on Boards, a group seeking gender parity in boardrooms. That compares with 21% a year earlier, and is significantly better than in the previous five years, when the ratio repeatedly failed to top 12%.
Two of the companies, Rocket Cos. and Reynolds Consumer Products, went public with gender-equal boards. U.S. companies have made it a priority to add female directors as top investors such as BlackRock and State Street Global Advisors pushed for the gender breakdown of boardrooms to reflect the broader population. Companies also fielded more calls to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of their boards following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by police, which turned a spotlight on the inequities people of color have to endure across a variety of spheres.
Goldman Sachs Group last year said it wouldn't underwrite public offerings for any companies that lack a diverse board after July 1, 2020. Diversity is classified to include gender, race, ethnicity or LGBTQ identity. After July 1 of this year, the requirement will increase to two members with a diverse background, one of whom must be a woman. While the firm helped manage Dun & Bradstreet's IPO, the century-old business data provider wasn't covered by the bank's diversity policy because it went public before the rules took effect.
Dun & Bradstreet would have met Goldman's standard even if it had gone public later in the year because of the diversity of its male directors, one of whom is of Asian descent and one of whom is of Indian descent, according to the bank. Short Hills, N.J.-based Dun & Bradstreet said it's "actively recruiting highly qualified female candidates to complement existing leadership" and reiterated that it views diversity in background and experience as an important component of its board.
There are still more than 200 companies in the Russell 3000 without female directors, according to 5050 Women on Boards. U.S. exchange operator Nasdaq, home to top tech stocks including Amazon.com and Facebook, also wants to require listed companies to either have diverse boards or explain their lack of diversity in a statement. That requirement is pending approval by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The move toward gender parity in boardrooms also has received a boost from California, which passed legislation in 2018 that mandated that most companies based there have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019, and three women by the end of this year. The state passed a similar law last year that will require at least one director from an under-represented group — such as a member of a racial or ethnic minority, or a member of the LGBTQ community — by the end of this year.