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It’s 2019 and there are still no women in these local companies’ boardrooms

Margie Manning

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Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

The boards of directors at two of the 20 largest companies in the Tampa Bay area are exclusively male.

Apyx Medical Corp. and  United Insurance Holdings Corp. are the only locally-based companies traded on a major stock exchange that don’t have any women on their boards.

That makes the two companies outliers at a time when the gender makeup of corporate boards has become a high-profile issue.

Neither United Insurance (Nasdaq: UIHC), a property insurance company in St. Petersburg, nor Apyx (Nasdaq: APYX), a medical device firm in Clearwater, responded to requests for comment on their board composition.

Board diversity, including gender diversity, is one of several key issues that have put publicly traded companies under a microscope. Other concerns include CEO and board pay, the relationship of CEO pay to worker pay, and how companies have used their cash. The St. Pete Catalyst will publish a series of reports in the next few days examining how those topics play out at local firms, focusing on companies that publicly report their financial information, are traded on a major stock exchange and have a market capitalization of $100 million or more.

‘Good for business’

Most of Tampa Bay’s largest companies have at least one woman director. Female directors make up more than one-third of the board at Bloomin’ Brands Inc. (Nasdaq: BLMN), the Tampa-based parent of Outback Steakhouse and other casual dining brands, and at Welbilt (NYSE: WBT), a commercial food equipment manufacturer in New Port Richey.

Tech Data Corp. (Nasdaq: TECD), a Clearwater-based IT distributor and the largest company in Florida based on revenue, is close behind, with 30 percent female board membership.

Two Tampa Bay companies added women to their boards of directors for the first time this year.

HCI Group Inc. (NYSE: HCI), an insurance, real estate and technology company in Tampa, appointed Loren Spencer, a retired audit partner at Deloitte & Touche, and Sue Watts, whose resume includes executive positions at Xerox, Capgemini and Orange Business Services.

Health Insurance Innovations Inc. (Nasdaq: HIIQ), a Tampa tech firm that distributes health and life insurance plans, has nominated Penny Scott and Ellen Duffield to the board.  Scott is former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, and Duffield is chief operating officer of Gateway Health Plan.

There’s been intensified investor focus on board diversity, which is the No. 2 issue to be addressed in the next three years, second only to board evaluations, according to a 2018 survey of corporate boards by Spencer Stuart, an executive search and leadership consulting firm. Proxy advisors who make voting recommendations to shareholders have adopted policies requiring diversity programs, Jackson Lewis wrote in its Corporate Compliance and White Collar Advisor report. California law requires most companies in the state to have at least one woman on their board by the end of this year, and other states are considering similar legislation, Bloomberg reported.

There’s been mixed findings on the impact of women on boards. Some studies have shown companies with women on their boards have better financial results. Other research has found no relationship to performance, according to a report last month in Harvard Business Review.

Emera Inc. (TSX: EMA), the Canadian company that bought TECO Energy and Tampa Electric in 2016, has come out solidly in favor of women on boards.

Excerpt from the Duke Energy proxy

“It is demonstrable that business performance improves with greater gender diversity; it is good for business,” Emera wrote in its 2019 proxy. Emera has a formal written policy that requires a minimum percentage of members of the board of directors are women. Four women were nominated for 12 board positions this year, exceeding the minimum requirement.

Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), the Charlotte, North Carolina electric provider for St. Petersburg, also has four women on its 14-member board. The company provides a detailed diversity breakdown in its proxy.

“The Board recognizes that a diverse Board, management, and workforce is key to Duke Energy’s success and believes that diversity of background, skill sets, experience, thought, ethnicity, race, gender, age, and nationality, are important considerations in selecting candidates,” the Duke proxy said.

Investor pressure

While neither Apyx Medical nor United Insurance has any female board members, Apyx has one woman in its C-suite. Tara Semb became chief financial officer on Jan. 2.

There are no women listed among the current named executive officers at United Insurance. The company’s former general counsel and chief legal officer, Kimberly Salmon, left in September.

Half of the United Insurance directors are up for re-election at the shareholders meeting on May 7. In its proxy, United recommended shareholders vote for those directors “based on the extent of each candidate’s demonstrated excellence and success in his chosen career,” as well as their specific skills.

Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory firm, highlighted the lack of gender diversity at United Insurance in its latest report.

ISS recommended shareholders vote for all the board nominees this year, but that could change in the future. Effective Feb. 1, 2020, ISS policy will be to generally vote against or withhold votes from the chair of the nominating committee at companies in the Russell 3000 or S&P 1500 indices that have no women on their boards. United Insurance is in the Russell 3000.

United Insurance, which does business as UPC Insurance and is among the area’s largest companies with $724 million in 2018 revenue, plans to build a new corporate headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg, on 4.6 acres it is buying from the city for $5 million.

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