The Presence and Absence of Women on Non Profit Boards

by Amanda Cimaglia, MPA Graduate Student, 2014

The Presence and Absence of Women on Non Profit Boards

When the topic of women and diversity of nonprofit board members was brought to my attention, I had not really thought about the issue before. I have worked for a few nonprofit organizations in my past and their board members were all men. At first I thought, it makes sense. Many of these men are very important, successful businessmen who can potentially bring the organization sponsorship and major donors. On reflection, I thought: why can’t women do that?

As I researched the absence of women on nonprofit boards, there were references to the lack of women on corporate boards. The two may go hand in hand. If women aren’t in these power positions, how might they be recruited for a nonprofit board, or more importantly, why would they be? Many people feel there needs to be more diversity on boards; how can you have an organization supporting breast cancer, and not have its board include women, who are the vast majority affected by the disease?

One statistic cites “Women represent just under 14 percent of the total board seats of New Jersey’s 111 largest publicly held companies. That statistic is slightly better than the national average, where just 12 percent of corporate boards of directors are women.”1 When nonprofit organizations recruit women in these leadership positions to fill their board seats, it is going to be harder to find them. Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell’s Soup, for example, serves on multiple boards. According to her corporate bio, “Denise serves on the board of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, where she chairs its Health and Wellness Committee. Denise was named as a Vice Co-Chair of the Consumer Goods Forum in 2013 and serves on the organization’s board. Denise was named to President Barack Obama’s Export Council in 2012. Denise was elected to the MetLife, Inc. board in February 2014. She previously served on the boards of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Ballard Power Systems Inc. Denise is a member of the board of directors for Catalyst. She is regularly named among the Fortune and Forbes Most Powerful Women.”2 The connections between the absence of women on nonprofit boards and corporate boards merit further research.

Much of the research I am pursuing on this topic this semester, is to identify the factors underpinning this absence of women in board positions. I am also interested to see the progress underway to change this factor. Perhaps my future blog posts will become more positive about the changes being made, not only in New Jersey, but also across the country. My next post will focus on specific improvements right here in New Jersey.


1 Friedman, Alexi. “Men Far Outnumber Women on the Boards of NJ’s Largest Companies, Report Shows.” The Star Ledger, 28 Jan. 2014. Web.

2 “Campbell’s About Us.” Denise M. Morrison. Campbell Soup Company, n.d. Web. <>.


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