It’s official – California-headquartered companies are now required to have at least one female director. A WSJ article says that 244 California-based companies have added a woman to their board since the law went into effect, and 41 companies added two. For companies with five or more directors, the law requires having 2-3 female directors by the end of next year. The Wilson Sonsini memo provides some up-to-date info on how reporting and enforcement will work in the days ahead. Here’s an excerpt:
Are there any reporting obligations for companies under SB 826? Yes and no. Because the California secretary of state has not yet adopted implementing regulations under SB 826, there is currently no official regulatory mechanism for reporting that would result in a fine (see list in next section). However, the secretary of state has modified the current annual Corporate Disclosure Statement for publicly traded companies to include questions regarding the number of female directors currently serving on a company’s board (see question 5 in the statement).
Based on our conversations with an individual handling SB 826 matters at the secretary of state’s office, during calendar 2019 and as of the date of this Alert, responding to those questions on the Corporate Disclosure Statement is the only current way a company can inform the secretary of state’s office regarding compliance with SB 826. We do not expect the secretary of state’s office to review a company’s annual report on Form 10-K, proxy statement, website, or any other documentation to determine whether a company had a female director serving during a portion of calendar 2019.
The memo goes on to say that it’d be unlikely at this point for a company to be fined for being out of compliance based on 2019 board composition. However, there’s a “public shaming” factor that could motivate companies to comply:
If there are currently no official reporting obligations, why should my company report on the Corporate Disclosure Statement? SB 826 requires the California secretary of state to publish on its website a report documenting the number of companies whose principal executive offices are located in California and who have at least one female director. An initial report was published in July 2019, and with no official reporting mechanism there were a number of anomalies reported.
No later than March 1, 2020, and then on an annual basis, the secretary of state must publish a more detailed report on its website regarding the number of:
companies subject to SB 826 that were in compliance with the law during at least one point during the preceding calendar year;
publicly held corporations that moved their U.S. headquarters to California from another state or out of California into another state during the preceding calendar year; and
publicly held corporations that were subject to SB 826 during the preceding year, but are no longer publicly traded.
Based on our conversations with an individual handling SB 826 matters at the California secretary of state’s office, the March 2020 report is currently being prepared based on responses received during 2019 from the Corporate Disclosure Statement. If companies want to be named on the secretary of state’s annual report as being compliant because a female director has served on their board for at least a portion of the calendar year, they will need to inform the secretary of state’s office through the Corporate Disclosure Statement.
California isn’t the only state to be taking a closer look at board diversity – New York is the latest jurisdiction to adopt a law on the topic. Starting in June of this year, companies will be required to report the number of directors on their boards and how many of those people are women. See the Ogletree Deakins memo for more info…
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net January 24, 2020
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