NH diversity

B. Joanne Edwards (center) joined Standex International’s seven-member board in 2018.

Four years ago, Standex International Corp.’s board of directors and top management were entirely white and male.

Today, the Salem-based manufacturing conglomerate has a Black woman on its seven-member board and a woman among its executive leadership.

“It’s a culture we aspire to build, but we are on a journey,” said that only woman executive, Annemarie Bell, who has been Standex’s vice president and chief human resources officer since 2018.

But Standex’s efforts still lag behind other large businesses in New Hampshire when it comes to the diversity of their corporate leadership. This is particularly true when it comes to women. When it comes to Black and indigenous individuals and people of color, there’s still a ways to go.

Women make up just over half of New Hampshire’s population, but they compose 23.1 percent of the boards of 13 publicly traded companies based in the Granite State, compared to 26.6 percent among Fortune 500 companies, according to “Missing Pieces” — a national corporate diversity scoreboard — in its latest report, which came out in June.

Those company boards also lag behind the makeup of the boards of 13 of the state’s largest nonprofits, where 30 percent of board members are women.

When it comes to executive leadership — as shown on the companies’ websites — only one out of five are women (20.3 percent). This does not compare favorably with 13 of some of the state’s largest privately held companies, where women hold a third of leadership positions, or more than a third at nonprofits (39.3 percent).

Members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) communities account for about a tenth of the state’s population and 10.6 percent of the membership of the publicly traded companies’ boards and 11.1 percent of nonprofits’. So far so good, unless you consider that many public companies have offices across a country that is much more diverse than New Hampshire.

‘Conversation has shifted’

When it comes to corporate leadership, members of the BIPOC community make up 5.7 percent of the executive suites of publicly traded companies, 4.3 percent of private companies’ and 10.1 percent of nonprofits that N.H. Business Review examined.

And when it comes to the very top leadership positions, all but one of the 13 publicly traded companies is headed by a white male, and all of their chief financial officers are white men. In at least 10 of the 13 companies, the CEO and CFO is a white man, and white men handled the finances of at least 11 of the 13 largest nonprofits. “It’s disheartening to look at those numbers,” said Monica Zulauf, president of the N.H. Diversity Workforce Coalition, though she added that she isn’t surprised.

“We should be doing better,” and then she added, “We are doing better.”

Both of those statements were true, she said, explaining that, though diversity in leadership is wanting, the “conversation has shifted” in the decade since her organization started.

“Before, everyone was literally working off the list, ‘How do we get one of these people?’ checking boxes. Now it’s, ‘How do we get people included in the organization?’ People are saying the right things. But behavior often lags behind the text.”

Diversity is certainly a goal listed in nearly every proxy statement of publicly traded companies in New Hampshire and elsewhere, and it soon might be more than text for some.

Last December, the Nasdaq exchange — where the stock of six New Hampshire companies is traded — proposed to the Securities and Exchange Commission a rule to require companies either to put at least one woman and one nonwhite person on their board or say why they haven’t — the “comply or explain” rule. The rule will also require some kind of standardized diversity disclosure.

Thus far, the New York Stock Exchange (where the other New Hampshire companies are traded) has expressed no interest in diversity requirements. The U.S. House of Representatives also passed a diversity disclosure law, but it is currently stalled in the Senate, where Republicans oppose it.

Currently, no publicly traded company has to disclose anything about their diversity policies, unless they have one.

In a rule issued in 2018, the SEC issued guidance that, to the extent a reporting company’s board nominating committee considers self-identified diversity characteristics, the SEC will require the company’s disclosure to include those characteristics and how they were considered.

That kind of regulation leads to statements like the one in the proxy of Portsmouth-based Bottomline Technologies:

“While the committee does not have a formal policy in respect of diversity, the committee considers the value of diversity in respect of the Board’s overall composition.”

But there has been a push — sometimes by consumers and sometimes by shareholders — to increase diversity, and the corporate world has responded.

At first, there was a push for companies to appoint more women to their board. When Alliance for Board Diversity released “Missing Pieces” in 2010, women composed 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 boards, so there has been an increase of 10 percentage points in a decade. On the other hand, representation by members of the BIPOC community has increased by less than 5 percent.

But there is a problem with those numbers, according to “Missing Pieces.”

A large number of representatives of BIPOC communities are “recycled,” said the report, meaning they already sit on more than one Fortune 500 company’s board, and perhaps other companies’ as well. Some 40 percent of Black board members sit on two such boards, a much higher percentage than white board members.

(In New Hampshire’s case, at least two Black board members — at Standex and Connection — sit on other boards.)

Still, 60 percent of companies nationally have a board made up entirely of white men. The report also notes that Fortune 100 companies have the greatest board diversity.

The pandemic and the protests after the killing of George Floyd seemed to have accelerated more diverse participation on boards.

From July 2020 through May 2021, some 32 percent of all newly appointed directors on the boards of S&P 500 companies were Black, according to ISS Corporate Solutions Inc., which issued its report in May. And more of these appointees were new to board membership. As of May 19, Black directors made up 10.6 percent of board membership of S&P 500 companies, opposed to 7.8 percent two years ago.

Efforts continue

No New Hampshire-based publicly traded company is on the S&P 500 or Fortune 500 list, so if a larger company size does translate into more diversity then perhaps it is understandable that the state, with its smaller companies and smaller, more homogeneous population, would be less diverse.

But that doesn’t seem apparent when looking at the makeup of either the boards or the executive leadership of New Hampshire companies.

At Portsmouth-based Sprague, one of the state’s largest companies, there is no BIPOC representation on the board and only one woman, making it the least diverse board of directors in the state, despite its proxy profession: “We make it a priority to embrace diversity and collaboration in our workforce, our ways of thinking, and our business experiences.”

Sprague’s leadership page includes three executives and they are all white men.

“We take diversity and inclusion initiatives seriously,” said Shana Hoch, Sprague’s managing director of marketing and customer experience. She noted that both the energy industry and the state are not very diverse, but it was also a matter of timing.

“Until a month ago, we were majority owned by a woman-owned company,” she wrote in an email, adding that then the company had two women on a seven member board. The change “did set us back,” she wrote, “but we continue to work on this challenging area.”

She also noted that two of the 11 “direct reports” to the CEO are women. The company has also held “respect in the workplace” training sessions to support the company’s core values, and offered a mom’s room to support those nursing their child and two weeks paid parental leave.

Unitil’s senior management also consists of three white male executives, but its 10-member board includes three women, one of them Black. To further the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, it is engaging a third party to conduct company-wide training.

Standex’s board numbers rank just a little above Sprague’s when it comes to diversity, thanks to appointment of B. Joanne Edwards in 2018. Edwards, who had just stepped down as senior vice president of the Residential and Wiring Device Division of Eaton, was already a board member of Amsted Industries and a former member of three other companies.

Edwards was able to join the board be cause of the company’s “refreshment” policy, which sets a mandatory retirement age.

As a result, the board appointed five new board members in the last six years, “including Ms. Edwards, an African American female,” according to the proxy.

“Not too long ago, everybody was the same, older white gentleman,” said Alan Glass, Standex’s chief legal officer. That’s why the board “committed to replacing the next director with a female candidate.” In May, the company announced it was nominating Robin Davenport, a white woman who is vice president of corporate finance at Parker-Hannifin Corp., to the board.

The company also expects to see more women top executives, said Annemarie Bell, the company’s chief human resources officer. “We have a lot more women in mid and senior-level positions.”

Arguably the state’s smallest publicly traded company, Nashua-based iCAD, is among the most diverse. Its four-member leadership team includes one white woman and one Asian man, as does its five-person board.

Hampton-based Planet Fitness’ eight member board is half white men, a quarter women and 37.5 percent BIPOC. But this is a relatively new phenomenon. A Black woman joined the board in February 2020, and a Latino joined this January. The leadership team of 12 includes two women and a man of Asian descent.

This is no accident, according to McCall Gosselin, senior vice president of communications and corporate responsibility.

“As the home of the Judgment Free Zone, we strive to expand and champion diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Gosselin.

Merrimack-based Connection is not far behind, at least when it comes to gender — 40 percent of its board is female, though the entire board is white. Patricia Gallup, current president of the board, co-founded PC Connection in Marlow in 1982 when it was mostly a computer catalogue company. Gallup is also chief administrative officer.

“Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is ongoing,” said Joan Evans, senior vice president of human resources. The company launched Connection Cares, a social responsibility initiative, she wrote, in reply to N.H. Business Review’s questions. “As part of the program, a committee comprised of employees from across the company guides our diversity and inclusion efforts. One example is our Women in Technology program, where women throughout Connection network to discuss important workplace topics and learn from each other.”

Other publicly held companies are all over the map when it comes to diversity.

Rochester-based Albany International’s leadership and board are both all white. The 12 executives include one woman, and the 10-member board has two.

As for the two newest publicly traded companies, both of which are located in Manchester, Allegro MicroSystems is headed by an Asian man (the only nonwhite male CEO of the 13 publicly traded companies) and includes five other people of Asian descent and one woman among its 14-member leadership team. Similarly, its 11-member board, which includes four Asian men, also only has one woman. Minim’s board is also all-white, though it just appointed a female founder as president, the only woman in leadership. Its eight-member board, also all-white, has two women.

And then there is Bottomline Technologies. Its 12-member leadership team is a third female, and its eight-member board has two women, one of whom is Black.

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.