Women on board

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson addressed the California state Senate in August 2018 on a measure requiring at least one female director on corporate boards of publicly traded companies based in the state. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Jackson's bill. A similar bill in Illinois failed to gain traction.

Proposed legislation that would have established racial and gender quotas on the boards of private corporations stirred up considerable opposition during the recent session of the Illinois General Assembly.

That's probably why Democratic legislators toned down the legislation -- or as the critics charged -- "gutted" it by implementing reporting requirements but doing away with mandated race and sex quotas.

In the end, the legislation, HB 3394, does nothing more than what most, if not all, private sector corporations already do -- publicly identify those who serve on their boards.

Indeed, publicly traded corporations publish annual reports to shareholders that include a wide variety of information about their board members and describe in detail what credentials they bring to their board positions.

Although legally dubious, the original bill required private businesses to appoint a woman and a black person to their boards. That mandate was subsequently expanded to include a Hispanic person.

Going from the initial two-person mandate to three raised a problem associated with the identity politics driving this mandate. Who is installed by law, and who is not?

What about Asians or Indians or other representatives of the ethnic polyglot that makes up this country?

Proponents of the original legislation insisted the measure is necessary because, in the words of one advocate, corporate boards should "reflect the population of our state."

It's one thing to make that kind of argument about a public or legislative body, where all voices need to be heard so all concerns can be addressed.

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But why would that argument apply to a steel company, a telecommunications firm or airplane manufacturer?

Those and many more are private businesses devoted to making and marketing products to the entire world.

Companies require board members who bring multiple skills and contacts and, as a consequence, draw from a broad base.

Further, they operate in competitive markets where rivals are constantly trying to outperform them.

Just where in that mix does identity politics fit? Private companies don't get special or extra credit in the marketplace because the demographics of their boards of directors win the approval of diversity mongers.

That's not to say, of course, that corporations are not obsessed with color. But the color that obsesses them is green -- in other words, money.

They'll do what is in their best interests, and that means looking for board members -- whatever their backgrounds -- if they bring the right credentials to the table.

Illinois' corporations don't need the same legislators who made a mess of Illinois' finances telling them who should run their enterprises and how they should run them.


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