01/07/2013 05:44 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2013

Women Directors Help Companies Gain Competitive Edge

After years of campaigning for more gender-diverse corporate boards, ION published its Ninth Annual Status Report on Women Directors and Executive Officers of Public Companies. The good news? We're making progress, and have several thriving companies that lead by example. The bad news? Progress is advancing at a snail's pace, and most companies aren't taking advantage of boardroom diversity as a competitive strategy.

To paint a clear picture, ION's report covers Fortune 500 corporations and hundreds of small to mid-size businesses. They found that the New York metropolitan region reported the highest overall percentage of women directors in its total research pool (19 percent). And among Fortune 500 corporations in 15 U.S. regions, Minnesota reported the highest percentage of women directors in its research pool (21.9 percent).

Despite the molasses pace of corporate gender diversification, this doesn't call for the implementation of government mandates or quotas like we've seen in some parts of Europe. In fact, the United Kingdom and Australia have provided many useful voluntary action models that can produce substantial results in the U.S., if adopted. According to Sarah Meyerrose, President of ION: "It's simple. A diverse board is a strategic imperative that improves business outcomes and positively affects financial performance -- two outcomes clearly persuasive enough for companies to diversify their boards."

One of the most aspirational sections of the ION report can be found in the Follow the Leader portion, which profiles 11 successful companies that demonstrate gender equity as a high-priority business initiative. Demonstrating positive financial results should be more than enough reason for CEOs, sitting directors and investors to diversify their boards. With such shining examples of the business advantages offered by diversity initiatives, corporate boards have no excuse not to move the needle in 2013.