Glaciers, Snails & Women on Boards

by Julie Graber | on 14 Feb 2017

I read a new one over the weekend.

It came from Robert Reed of the Chicago Tribune, referencing the recent report from the Alliance for Board Diversity showing only limited change in the percentage of corporate board seats held by women and minorities since 2012.

It was Reed’s assessment of “the slow progress” that caught my eye.

“Actually,” Reed wrote, “to say ‘slow’ is an affront to snails.

For years, the word of choice has been “glacial” to describe the advancement of women and minorities onto corporate boards. I used as far back as 2004 and I certainly wasn’t the first. Do a Google search on “women on boards” and “glacial” and there are close to half a million results, including:

Thawing the Glacial Progress for Women on Boards

Four New Ideas To Speed Up The Glacial Pace Of Getting More Women On Boards

Glacial progress of women on Canada’s boards prompts calls for reform

‘Glacial at best’: Women’s progress on corporate boards in Australia

The glacial change: women on corporate boards in Tennessee.

So it amused me (as little does when I read the news these days) to find someone using a new way to describe the very slow pace of change in board diversity.

It occurred to me that Reed might be onto something. I don’t know how the rate of change in glaciers compares to the pace of a snail, but we might need to examine the differences to ensure that we’re using the most accurate comparison for how slowly women and minorities are being added to corporate boards in the US.1 With the impact of climate change on the rate of change on glaciers, maybe they’re moving too fast to continue to use them for comparison.

Of course, the same climate change that is impacting the rate of change (in this case, loss) in glaciers could also be a threat to existence of snails. So “snail’s pace” might be only a temporary fix.

And isn’t that a pleasant thought? That glaciers and snails might be extinct before women and minorities take their rightful place on corporate boards.

  1. in 2012, women and minorities filled 26.7% of board seats in the Fortune 500. In 2016, that percentage was 30.8% - basically a gain of a percentage point a year.