City law asks about women execs, board members

Women -- most dressed in business suits -- filled nearly every seat in the mayor's reception room Wednesday, there to watch Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter sign into law legislation that will require companies doing business with the city of Philadelphia to provide information about the gender, race and address of its executive staff and board.

"I asked where the champagne was," joked Irene H. Hannan, a senior vice president at Citizens Bank, and a former president of the Forum of Executive Women, as she addressed the group. The Forum has been pushing this initiative for years, and the needle barely moves. Click here to read the group's most recent report.

Blondell Reynolds Brown

Later I asked Hannan a question that felt almost heretical, being that I am a woman and all for women having an equal opportunity to succeed. I asked her if this requirement was exactly what companies complain about when they talk about the hassle of doing business in the city.

"Most companies look at this as the cost of doing business," she said. "If it involves filling out a form, so be it. I don't see it as an obstacle."

Here is the argument that Hannan made: Study after study, she said, has shown that women contribute to the success of a company when given a voice on the board. So maybe, she said, this requirement will provide the nudge businesses need to improve themselves. "You can't argue the bottom line over a piece of paper."

Angela Dowd-Burton, executive director of the city's office of economic opportunity, said there are typically 1,500 city contracts a year in place. She said that the goal is to make the form simple, so it doesn't create a burden to business.

Shepherded by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the law doesn't set any requirements for the type of leadership necessary for a company to gain a city contract, although, potentially, that could change down the road. To her, the collection of data is crucial. "What gets measured is what gets done," she said. 

The Forum reports can track women on the boards and in the executive suites of publicly-traded companies. The city contract data will be broader, and include information on privately-held companies not required by securities law to list executives.

The data, Brown said, will suggest whether more measures are needed. "Government has to be the change agent."