GENDER DIVERSITY: Former DuPont CEO looks to bolster gender diversity in the C-suite and boardroom.

Author:Milford, Maureen
Position:ON THE TABLE FOR 2018
 
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The image is striking.

Seated at an enormous board table are more than two dozen men in white shirts, ties and business suits. The top executives of the industrial giant are identified as "men with backgrounds in various phases of business." The year is 1952.

Nearly 60 years would pass before a woman would head that DuPont Co. table. The company's glass ceiling was broken in 2009 when Ellen Kullman became the first woman CEO and board chairman at thethen 207-year-old company.

Kullman--who retired as DuPont's CEO and chair in 2015--has been on a mission to speed up the glacial progress of women executives to the C-suite.

In 2016, she co-founded Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders pushing to have women in 50% of senior leadership positions by 2030. Joining Kullman as co-chairs are Jewelle Bickford, a partner with Evercore Wealth Management, and Sandra Beach Lin, former CEO of Calisolar Inc.

For companies that seek to take steps in 2018 to eliminate gender disparity in their boardrooms, as well as their top offices, Kullman's coalition, and other such initiatives, could serve as a useful partner by providing concrete actions companies can take.

After all, the C-suite often leads to the boardroom, Kullman points out.

And the push to get gender diversity in the boardroom will be even stronger this year with large investors ramping up the pressure.

"There is compelling evidence that boards with a critical mass of women have outperformed those that are less diverse. Diverse boards also more effectively demonstrate governance best practices that we believe lead to long-term shareholder value," wrote F. William McNabb III, chairman of the board ofVanguard in a letter to directors of public companies.

Vanguard is one of many institutional investors demanding change. "Our stance on this issue is therefore an economic imperative, not an ideological choice," McNabb added.

But increasing the numbers in the boardroom and the corner office will take serious work.

Paradigm for Parity's goal for top leadership is ambitious considering that women held just 26.5% of executive and senior level positions at S&P 500 companies in 2017, according to Catalyst, whose mission is to expand opportunities for women. But Kullman is optimistic. In the year since Paradigm was launched, 60 companies have committed to gender equality in their halls of power.

The organization grew out of discussions among a group of women executives who lamented that their...

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