Then there was one.
Remember this name: Steel Connect, a Waltham holding company that has the ignominious distinction of having no women on its board and no women in its executive suite.
The company is the lone “zero-zero” on the Boston Club’s annual census of women at senior levels of the 100 biggest public firms in Massachusetts.
There were eight “zero-zeroes” last year. To get down to one laggard, well, that’s huge progress in the club’s 17th year of tracking high-powered women.
Among those companies that only recently shed the “zero-zero” title was TripAdvisor, which was until this year one of the few companies on the S&P 500 with an all-male board. The Needham travel technology company added two female directors in March.
According to Boston Club records, Steel Connect used to have a woman on its board, Virginia Bonker, but she left in 2014. Since her departure, the company has not brought in another female director nor added a woman to the c-suite.
So what’s Steel Connect’s excuse for being so behind the times?
“We are committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace, and as part of that process we continually look at how we can improve and further drive best practices within all levels of the organization,” Jennifer Golembeske, vice president at Steel Partners, which is an affiliate of Steel Connect, said in a statement. “We are currently evaluating our board composition to ensure that we have a diverse mix of voices.”
Steel Connect may not be a household name, but it used to be. The company was previously known as ModusLink, a supply chain company, and before that it was CMGI, one of the hottest Internet companies of the 1990s.
Based in Andover, CMGI was an incubator for early dot-com firms. Then-CEO David Wetherell — yes, another blast from the past for all you old timers — was known as the “Warren Buffett” of the Web.
New England Patriots fans might also remember CMGI Field. In 2000, the company inked a 15-year, $114 million deal for naming rights to the new Foxborough stadium. Then the dot-com bubble burst, and two years later, Boston shaving giant Gillette took over the naming rights.
The Boston Club, a group that advances women leaders, works with Bentley University every year to pore through securities filings to conduct its census of women in boardrooms and c-suites. The reason: What gets measured, gets done.
When the club published its first census in 2003, half of the companies did not have a woman on their board, and 35 were designated as a “zero-zero.”
Patricia Flynn, the Bentley economics and management professor who coauthored the 2019 census — released on Thursday — credited this year’s progress to the surge of women named as independent directors. They accounted for 52.6 percent of those slots, up from 41.7 percent in 2018.
“That is huge,” said Flynn. “That connects with why some of these other numbers are so positive.”
The club also reported that 98 of the 100 biggest public companies in Massachusetts have at least one woman on their board — nine more than last year.
Female directors held at least 30 percent of the board seats at 29 companies — eight more than last year.
Overall, women held a record high 24 percent of the board seats among the 2019 census companies. Female directors of color also made gains, occupying 29 slots, up from 22.
Women also accounted for at least 30 percent of the executive officers at 21 of the census companies — up from 10 companies last year.
Lawmakers have also gotten into the act. In 2018, California became the first state to pass legislation requiring publicly traded companies headquartered there to have women on boards.
A similar bill proposed in Massachusetts would require companies headquartered here to have at least one female director by the end of 2021. Then by the end of 2023, a public company based in Massachusetts with six or more directors would need to have a minimum of three women on its board.
Promoting women isn’t for show. Study after study indicate that companies with women in boardrooms and executive roles are more profitable.
Looking ahead over the next few years, Flynn expects over 150 board vacancies at the biggest Massachusetts public companies because directors are aging out. Companies typically mandate directors step down when they turn 75.
Such a shift could mean another wave of women being appointed to boards.
“Maybe we can get rid of the ‘zero-zero’ . . . wouldn’t that be great?” said Flynn.
Indeed, it would. The clock is ticking for Steel Connect. This time next year, the Waltham company has a chance to put “zero-zero” in the history books.