Trewstar Corporate Board Services

California’s Board Diversity Law: Like it? Hate it? Hear from the woman who started it.

March 05, 2021

Trewstar Engagement Manager and Head of Business Functions, Drew Silverman, recently sat down with legendary California State Senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson, to discuss Hannah-Beth's philosophies and how her legislation has shifted boardroom culture. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

How did your childhood impact your career choices? Who were your role models? 

A lot of who we are and what drives us is either in response or reaction to our upbringing. I am of an era where women had very specific roles that they were supposed to play, and I found them incredibly boring. I really wanted to play baseball and ride my bike all over the neighborhood. I just loved that freedom and rejected the limitations that I felt were imposed on girls. 

I had great role models from my grandmother's generation, women who really broke barriers. I had a great aunt who was the first woman ever to hold an endowed chair at a university in Boston! She had a sister who was only the second woman ever to practice dentistry in the city of Boston. I had incredibly independent, self-motivated, self-determined women who were role models for me and showed me nothing was impossible. The sky was the limit, and I was not going to be constrained in any way because of my gender. 

What catalyzed California’s legendary SB 826 legislation requiring public companies to have at least one female director on their board? 

Back in 2013, I was working with a terrific group of women entrepreneurs from the National Association of Women Business Owners. We were frustrated by the fact that the glass ceiling continued to be impenetrable in the boardroom and in the C-suite. With their help, I drafted a resolution that I introduced in the California State Legislature calling upon corporate boards to bring more women into the boardroom. A resolution simply urges companies to do something. It's not a mandate, requirement, or law. 

Along with our resolution, we presented all sorts of statistics and studies that showed clearly that when you have women on corporate boards, companies are more productive, profitable, and have better governance. I hoped the resolution would be a call-to-action to urge companies to start taking a look at our data and open their boards to more women.  At the time, only 15.5% of all board seats in publicly traded companies in California were held by women. The resolution was a linking of reality to policy with the hope that it would lead to the goal of bringing more women into positions of corporate power and influence.

Fast forward to 2018. Our call to action had moved the needle from 15.5% of board seats held by women to 16%.... clearly, we were not making progress. But by 2018, there was even more data supporting our claim, and the world was gripped by the #MeToo movement. It was clearly our time to create change, so I introduced a bill that would turn this resolution into law. 

How did the bill become law? 

This is an interesting story! When a bill hits the Governor’s desk, he (and someday soon hopefully she) has 30 days within which to sign or veto a bill. When SB 826 arrived on Governor Brown’s desk, he held on to it until that very last day. The last day that he could sign the bill happened to be right after the weekend of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearing. The Governor had watched the hearings with two very successful businesswomen by his side – his wife and his chief of staff. 

I think the push that got our bill over the line was that fact that the Governor was so infuriated by the Kavanaugh hearing and realized that a major culture shift was needed. Watching the members of the Committee attacking this woman who had come forward quite reluctantly to share her experience with this man seeking a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, was an eye-opener. The Governor signed the bill and called it “a shot across the bow of corporate America”.

I think it's pretty obvious that this bill has been successful. Do you feel like you've accomplished what you set out to accomplish?

Oh, absolutely. We blasted open the boardroom doors. These doors have been closed to women for far too long.  I'm also very pleased because companies are seeing that it adds value. It's good for business, and that's really gratifying as well. There is still work to be done because change is never easy.  I take comfort in the fact that there are so many competent women out there and companies like Trewstar are placing them on boards. This trend must continue. 

Do you think it’s possible to replicate SB 826 on a federal level?

This country is so divided, I’m just not too hopeful this will become a federal law anytime soon. It saddens me deeply that if one party says X, the other party says Y. This movement is good for all parties. This deals with issues of equity, opportunity, economic success, corporate viability and good governance.

It is my hope that by breaking open this door, companies can see the value of diversity in corporate functioning and won’t need the government to mandate it. 

How do you interpret AB 979, the new bill in California regarding underrepresented minorities? And what kind of advice or guidance would you offer companies as they try to navigate it?

I do think that there is confusion with this new bill, and I frankly am not quite sure how it's going to play out. I do know that there are some lawsuits that are pending. My hope is that we will open the corporate boardroom to all people, and that diverse boards will ultimately help companies succeed in recognizing the value to companies and the country as well.

My advice to companies navigating this bill is to expand their boards. I know that there are eminently qualified people out there in all various shapes, sizes, colors, and preferences.

As you move into the next phase of your career, what are your goals?

I am termed out of the legislature, so I can no longer write and pass legislation directly. I am now transitioning to consulting and strategic planning, which you can see on my website

It is my hope to be able to take my unique experience and use the talents and tools that I developed over my career to help companies see the bigger picture. I hope to help them strategize, comply with the requirements in a way that helps them succeed, and ultimately make their business more successful in our ever-changing world. If your company would like to work with me, you can contact me here. 

Over the course of my political career I have spoken, given speeches, and been on hundreds of panels. I really enjoyed it and love sharing stories that can help people look at things differently. When the COVID pandemic is over, I am very much looking forward to going out on the speaking circuit.  

What is your advice for people like me who are just launching careers? 

Many young people ask me, "How did you do it? How were you so lucky? What are the keys?" I think the answer's really quite simple: follow your passion. Your passion will get you to where you want to go!