BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., May 2 (Reuters) - Three U.S. chief executive officers speaking at a conference on Tuesday pushed back against the view that qualified female directors are scarce, saying that corporate boards need to look harder and wider to diversify.
The U.S. military, corporate subsidiaries and non-profit boards were three areas cited as potential launching pads for female directors.
The push for more women on boards comes as some large investors make the case that more board diversity leads to stronger corporate performance.
"Instead of recruiting being episodic, let's look out over a couple of years and start getting to know some potential candidates," said Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Co . Morrison stressed the need to create pipeline of diverse director candidates, and suggested the boards of non-profit companies as an excellent training ground.
Morrison was speaking on the "How to accelerate gender diversity on boards" panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference.
Women hold 19 percent of board seats in the United States, according to a McKinsey Quarterly report published this year by the consultant, well below the 30 percent they hold in Europe. Equilar, which compiles board data, said in a January study that it will take nearly 40 years for Russell 3000 boards of directors to reach a male-female ratio of 50-50 (bit.ly/2kTTNZA).
Morrison said that years ago, she began organizing dinners with around 20 entrepreneurial women in cities she visits for work. The group, which focuses on leadership, is now comprised of more than 300 women across 12 U.S. cities, she said.
NV Tyagarajan, CEO of business processing company Genpact Ltd, said on the panel that executive recruiting firms - or so-called headhunters - struggle to produce lists of diverse candidates.
In response to that perception of scarcity, several databases and lists of diverse director candidates have formed in the last year. California pension funds CalSTRS and CalPERS partnered in the creation of the Diverse Director Datasource in 2016. Entrepreneur Sukhinder Singh Cassidy launched the Boardlist last year to connect boards with 1,000 female candidates.
"There's numerous studies out there, including our own work, showing companies that had leadership that included a high proportion of women on boards, high proportion of women in top and senior management just performed better," said panelist Ronald O’Hanley CEO of State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), the investment manager with $2.6 trillion under management
Reporting by Michael Flaherty; Editing by Lisa Shumaker