NEW YORK - Achieving greater gender representation on corporate boards is not only simply a matter of fairness, it is good for the company’s bottom line, Eve Ellis, a  financial advisor with the Matterhorn Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, said at the Women Advisors Forum on Wednesday.

During her presentation, “Why Parity Matters,” Ellis pointed to research that showed a positive correlation between significant female representation in the boardroom and a company’s financial performance. According to a McKinsey study, companies with more women on their boards outperformed rivals with 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity. Another study from Catalyst indicated that companies with at least three women had 73% better return on sales and 83% better return on equity.

“There’s so much research out right now that it’s ridiculous to refute it or disregard it,” she said.

Despite the research, female representation in corporate boardrooms remains weak, with only 16.9% of S&P board members being women. Ellis cited a recent GMI survey that found that of nearly 6,000 companies worldwide, 14.4% had three or more female board members.  In the U.S., 14.8% had three or more female board members.

“Since when are Americans satisfied by squeaking by an abysmally low bar?” she asked.

By comparison, 63% of companies in Norway have a minimum of three women on their boards, and in France, the average is more than 50%. Additionally, Ellis said, Norwegian companies with less than 40% female representation face delisting.

“Can you imagine saying to Facebook, ‘Sorry you’re delisted?'” she joked.  Luckily, Facebook recently added a second female board member. "At least one person is 'leaning in'," she said in a reference to the company's COO Sheryl Sandberg. 

Ellis suggested ways in which advisors can do their part to gain gender parity in the boardroom. She urged advisors to do research and directed them to a web site, 20 20 Women on Boards, which provided a gender diversity directory.  She also suggested advisors write to the boards and encourage others to do the same.

“If corporate America does not achieve parity in boardrooms as other countries are actively implementing, we will fall further behind," Ellis said.

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