GREENSBORO — Experts say corporations can make smarter decisions when women and minorities have seats at the boardroom table.
And five Triad companies are among the best in North Carolina at encouraging diversity on their boards of directors, according to a new UNC report.
Overall, however, progress in the state has stagnated during the recession years, according to the UNC School of Law Director Diversity Initiative.
“People think about diversity less during times of stress,” said Lissa Broome, Wells Fargo Professor of Banking Law at UNC School of Law and director of the initiative.
“But then on the other hand, you think about maybe a more diverse board may have helped you not get into that situation.”
Broome said diverse boards are crucial for a variety of reasons. Different ideas and perspectives can help corporations avoid “groupthink” that neglects key issues.
Women, she said, are viewed as more cautious and apt to question hasty decisions.
“Maybe if it had been Lehman Sisters and not Lehman Brothers, we would not have had this fiscal crisis and shenanigans that we had,” she said.
Only 13 companies among 50 whose headquarters are in North Carolina had at least 25 percent minorities and women on their boards of directors in 2012, according to the report.
Large corporate boards in North Carolina are less diverse than the Fortune 100, according to the report.
Among this region’s companies with the lowest percentage of minorities and women on their boards — Greensboro’s Unifi and Thomasville’s Old Dominion Freight Line.
Old Dominion ranks 49th with no women or minorities on its nine-member board. The company did not return a call seeking comment.
Unifi ranked 36th with one woman on its 10-member board.
Rebecca Landas, Unifi’s investor relations coordinator, said she could not talk about the issue this week because Unifi is in a strict quiet period before it discusses its quarterly earnings on April 25.
Broome said boards have become smaller in recent years, in part because corporations believe smaller boards are more efficient and make smarter decisions. The trend also leaves fewer spots for women and minorities.
“It is important that companies are thinking about that as they are downsizing their board and people are rotating off,” Broome said. “You might want to think about whether you want to sacrifice diversity for that goal.”
Some experts, Broome included, said the way women and minorities are included is as important as adding simple numbers.
“Finding qualified people for board service is the most important thing,” she said. “We’re not advocating putting less qualified people on boards.”
Her group offers a database that includes women and minorities who have offered to serve on boards, complete with resumes on request.
Other agencies offer similar databases.
“That can help enrich the pool of candidates,” she said.
Many boards remain closed to any new candidates, however, because turnover rates are so limited. Often, corporate rules allow board members to serve for decades.
Smaller boards only perpetuate the issue, she said.