Chicago Tribune

More women are landing seats on corporate boards, but pace of change is 'glacial'

Michelle Collins' first experience on a corporate board felt like a box-checking exercise. Woman: check. Black woman: double check.

A young banker, Collins felt her opinions were politely ignored by her fellow board members, all white men. She got so frustrated with what she thought was poor decision-making over a leadership succession plan that she resigned in the middle of her term.

"You're there, you're not sure how they're going to value you, and they really just didn't," Collins, 58, recalled of her five years on the chemical company's board.

Twenty years later, Collins has become selective about the boards she joins. She looks for companies with strong female leadership, where diversity doesn't feel like a numbers game but rather a natural consequence of seeking the best talent. She is, for example, one of six women on the 12-member board of Ulta Beauty, where she says diversity is "in our DNA."

While gender parity on a board is rare, Collins' experience shows the marked progress being made toward greater female representation on public boards, where the steady but slow pace of change has frustrated diversity advocates for years.

A Tribune analysis of regulatory filings shows that at Illinois' 25 most valuable companies, ranked by market capitalization, women have claimed 44 percent of new directorships since the start of last year

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