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More new independent directors added to S&P 500 boards, but turnover remains slow

October 2015

[New York] — October 1, 2015 — More women joined S&P 500 boards during the 2015 proxy year, but at a slowing pace, data from the 30th annual Spencer Stuart Board Index shows. Thirty-one percent (117) of new independent directors were women, an increase of one percentage point — representing just seven more women than in 2014. Women now represent 20 percent of all S&P 500 directors, compared with 16 percent five years ago yet are underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 16% of nominating committees are chaired by a female director, 13% of audit committees and 10% of compensation committees.

With turnover of S&P 500 boards averaging about 7 percent annually and women representing less than a third of those new directors, change in the composition of boards is likely to be slow. Lack of director term limits and high mandatory retirement ages contribute to the low turnover. Only 13 S&P 500 boards, 3%, set an explicit term limit for non-executive directors. Seventy-three percent of boards have a mandatory retirement age for directors. Of those, nearly all, 94 percent, set the retirement age at 72 or older.

Meanwhile, a survey of corporate secretaries conducted as part of the report shows a decline in the number of boards prioritizing the recruitment of women. In contrast with last year, the percentage of respondents prioritizing the recruitment of active CEOs (65 percent) topped the number prioritizing the recruitment of women (58 percent). In 2014, 71 percent said they wanted to add a woman, while 60 percent said they were looking for an active CEO. 

“Given the current pace of turnover, it will take a long time before we see meaningful progress. Particularly when boards limit the pool of new directors to CEOs, women will have fewer board opportunities,” said Julie Hembrock Daum, who leads Spencer Stuart’s North American Board Practice. “Increasing the presence of women on management teams, corporate boards and board leadership roles requires a multi-front effort. That’s why our work with the WCD Foundation is so important.”

Announced in January 2015, Spencer Stuart and the WCD Foundation are driving a series of global initiatives to boost diversity in boardrooms – both from the supply side and the demand side. Initiatives include efforts to bring more female candidates to the attention of board nominating committees and to help women aspiring to board roles position themselves for board service opportunities.

“We want to accelerate corporate governance globally, and one of the best ways is to recruit more women. Study after study show women make boards more effective,” says WCD Foundation chairman and CEO Susan Stautberg and author of Women on Board. “At the same time, we are creating a powerful community of women globally who are exceptional, thoughtful, and influential board members and are ideal candidates for further board opportunities.” The WCD Foundation, the largest membership organization of women on boards, has 70 chapters globally, with more than 3,500 members serving on 7,000 boards.

The joint effort includes the following initiatives:

  • A major global survey of male and female board directors in conjunction with Professor Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business School and research partner Deborah Bell
  • Multiple WCD Foundation chapter launches globally to create local director communities for networking and sharing best practices
  • Joint WCD Foundation and Spencer Stuart sessions providing advice on how to best position oneself for new board opportunities and governance trends and best practices published in the firm’s annual portfolio of over 20 Spencer Stuart Board Indexes
  • The annual WCD Foundation Visionary Award for Leadership and Governance honoring a top-performing company and board with three or more women board members
  • Board bootcamps for new directors and for women preparing to be directors 

For more information, please contact Jim Horton of Robert Martson Corporate Communications at 917-472-0612 or

About Spencer Stuart

At Spencer Stuart, we know how much leadership matters. We are trusted by organizations around the world to help them make the senior-level leadership decisions that have a lasting impact on their enterprises. Through our executive search, board and leadership advisory services, we help build and enhance high-performing teams for select clients ranging from major multinationals to emerging companies to nonprofit institutions.

Privately held since 1956, we focus on delivering knowledge, insight and results though the collaborative efforts of a team of experts -- now spanning 56 offices, 30 countries and more than 50 practice specialties. Boards and leaders consistently turn to Spencer Stuart to help address their evolving leadership needs in areas such as senior-level executive search, board recruitment, board effectiveness, succession planning, in-depth senior management assessment and many other facets of organizational effectiveness. For more information on Spencer Stuart, please visit

About WomenCorporateDirectors Education and Development Foundation, Inc. (WCD)

The WomenCorporateDirectors Education and Development Foundation, Inc. (The WCD Foundation) is the only global membership organization and community of women corporate directors, with more than 3,500 members serving on more than 7,000 boards. A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the WCD Foundation has 70 chapters around the world, with seven more to launch over the next year. The aggregate market capitalization of public companies on whose boards WCD Foundation members serve is over $8 trillion. In addition, WCD Foundation members serve on numerous boards of large private and family-run companies globally.

WCD Foundation membership provides a unique platform for learning from the intellectual capital of accomplished women from around the world, and the WCD Foundation's mission is to increase courage, candor, inclusion, and cohesion in the boardroom.

Press Contact
James L. Horton
Robert Marston Corporate Communications