Philadelphia’s higher education and health institutions, known as “eds and meds,” have made some progress with increasing the number of women board members, a new study shows.

Among those institutions that had less than 30% female board members in 2019, most have added women, according to 2021 figures compiled by the Women’s Nonprofit Leadership Initiative and La Salle University’s Nonprofit Center.

In their 2019 report, 27 of 50 organizations had boards with fewer than 30% women. In an update of “The Gender Gap in Nonprofit Boardrooms” report, five of this group saw their female representation stay flat or decline, but the others saw an increase. (The new study group focused just on those below 30%, and the total number of organizations fell because of mergers.)

But some large, influential nonprofits, including the Einstein Healthcare Network, still have fewer than 30% women trustees and appear to be years away from reaching gender parity, the study found.

The situation is even more critical regarding racial and ethnic diversity, particularly for women of color, who continue to be the most underrepresented in boardrooms.

The 27 organizations in question included 14 educational nonprofits and 13 medical ones. The benchmark of about 30% women was set symbolically by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which in 2017 unanimously passed a resolution urging both for-profit and nonprofit boards to reach a minimum of one-third women by 2020.

“Our boards need to represent our universities’ constituents — it enhances trust when our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors see themselves and their communities represented in our boards,” said Widener University president Julie Wollman.

Widener has about 22% women on its board, including Wollman, up from 17% in 2019.

Thomas Jefferson University’s board, which governs both the former Philadelphia University and the hospital system, posted an increase in female directors and chose a woman as its next board chair.

The incoming chair, Trish Wellenbach, who also heads the Please Touch Museum, said “diversity on boards is critical to sustaining excellent performance.”

Fortune 500 companies were recently ranked according to the number of women directors on the board. And an analysis found that the highest quartile reported a 42% greater return on sales and a 53% higher return on equity than those with less gender diversity, Wellenbach said.

Jefferson’s board increased the percentage of women on its combined boards to 29% in 2021 from 18% in 2019.

Among Philly’s “meds,” four medical institutions and health networks have increased the number of women. Two at 30% or above as of 2021 were Bancroft Neurohealth and Inspira Health Network.

Albert Einstein increased to 17% from 15%, while Inspira Health rose to 31% from 14% two years ago.

Some slid down the list, such as Cooper University Health System, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and La Salle University.

“Half of our incoming board class are women this year, along with both of our board vice chairs and the chair of our trusteeship and governance committee” responsible for the recruitment of trustees, said La Salle’s outgoing president Colleen Hanycz.

“We are very optimistic about the future in this regard,” said Hanycz, who is leaving to become president of Xavier University in Cincinnati. AmyLynn Flood is La Salle’s vice chair, and she joins Meg Kane as co-vice chair of the board. Of the 36 seats on the board, La Salle requires eight board seats to be filled by Christian Brothers.

Some institutions historically founded by women have both 30% female trustees and directors and a female board chair: Doylestown Hospital is an example.

Bryn Mawr College, historically a women’s college, also leads that group; 91% of its board members are women. Immaculata University (85%) and Cabrini University (60%) were founded by nuns.

Racial diversity

The 2019 report found a gap in racial diversity on the top 50 governing boards and the particular underrepresentation of women of color.

In the higher education sector, men of color occupied 8% of seats while women of color held only 5% of seats. In health care, men of color comprised 7% of trustees and women of color held 6% of seats.

An examination of the racial composition of boards falling below 30% women shows that in 2021, membership on both eds and meds boards continues to be dominated by white men (64% of higher education boards and 66.4% of health boards).

Outside experts say diversity doesn’t happen without buy-in from the top.

“Increasingly, executives are realizing that without intention, boards and C-suite leadership will not become diverse,” said Judith von Seldeneck, founder of Diversified Search Group, a recruitment firm. “We’re pleased to see in our clients a significant increase in intentionality with respect to seeking out more diverse talent.”

The new report is available on the Women’s Nonprofit Leadership Initiative website.