One step forward, two steps back. On Friday, August 9, a conservative activist group called Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the implementation of Senate Bill 826 (SB 826)— a law mandating that California corporations include at least one woman on their board of directors by 2019, and two to three by 2021. The defendant, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, “support[s] the underlying goals of SB 826″ and “will respond in court,” a spokesperson stated.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of three California taxpayers, claiming it violates Article I, Section 31 of the California Constitution which prevents gender discrimination. Furthermore, the plaintiffs say it’s illegal under California law to spend taxpayer funds and resources to enforce SB 826, calling it a “gender quota.” Governor Jerry Brown publicly acknowledged SB 826 has “potential flaws” when he signed it into law late last year; however, he thought it was a step in the right direction given today’s political climate.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), co-writer of SB 826 with Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), said in response on August 9: “While I certainly respect the constitutional right of anyone to challenge the law in our courts, it is disappointing that this conservative right wing group is more invested in spending thousands of dollars on a questionable lawsuit than supporting policy that improves business’ profits and boosts our economy.”
Numerous studies have shown a strong positive correlation between female executives and company success: A 2016 study by Credit Suisse reported that annual growth rates have jumped as much as 10.3 percent when women contribute to senior leadership. Yet for some reason, the number of board seats held by women in California, 17.3 percent, is slightly below the national average of 17.7 percent, according to Russell 3000 Index. Since California is often considered a progressive leader, this seems unusually low. Additionally, CBS News found nearly 100 companies that didn’t have any women at all in 2018.
Jackson stated, “While the courts consider this challenge, many companies have already voluntarily complied. Just last month, the last all-male board of the S&P 500 added a woman to its ranks, showing that diversity is within our grasp and that women are highly qualified and eager to step up.” Atkins adds she’s “confident the courts will see through this thinly veiled attempt to block highly qualified women from serving on the boards of our publicly traded corporations.”