Bank boardrooms, once white male bastions, continue to become more diverse.
The percentage of large public banks with at least one woman or minority director increased over the past year, according to a survey by Korn/Ferry, a New York-based executive search firm.
The survey of 67 of the largest U.S. banking companies found 84% reported having at least one woman director in 1995, up from 75% a year earlier.
While the increase in women bank directors is not altogether surprising, the survey confirms trends taking place in the banking industry spurred by demands from shareholders, regulators, and customers.
J. Gregory Coleman, managing director of financial institutions for Korn/Ferry, said banks are being pressured from many fronts to make their boards, as well as their management teams, reflect the demographics of society.
"Diversity is increasing in importance on all levels," he said.
Still, Korn/Ferry said the percentage of banks reporting at least one minority director in 1995 was 69%, only slightly higher than 66% a year earlier.
The Korn/Ferry survey only examines boards of the largest banks. Among community banks, the percentage of women and minorities is much lower, said David H. Baris, a Bethesda, Md., attorney and executive director of the American Association of Bank Directors.
The very largest banks have been the most active in placing women on boards. Catalyst, a Boston-based research and advocacy group, released a report late last year showing only two of the 31 banks on the Fortune 500 list lack women directors: Boatmen's Bancshares in St. Louis and Suntrust Banks Inc. in Atlanta.
The banking industry generally mirrors other industries for women and minority representation, but the overall picture is still disheartening to groups like Catalyst, said Merle Pollak, the organization's director of corporate board placement.
Catalyst, a major advocate for women representation on boards, has a data base with 1,800 names of women who could serve as corporate directors. "There's absolutely no excuse" for a Fortune 500 bank not to have a woman on its board, Ms. Pollak said. "We feel more and more corporations are realizing that."
Suntrust spokesman James Armstrong declined to comment, while Boatmen's spokesman Larry Bayliss did not return phone calls.
Reatha Clark King, a 10-year board member of Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp., said, "Companies that don't have women and minority representation are not progressive, and companies that say they can't find them are really not progressive."
Ms. Clark King, president and executive director of General Mills Foundation in Minneapolis, is also African-American.
She believes too many companies use the excuse of not being able to find qualified women and minorities. Not every director needs to be a chief executive, she argues.
The Korn/Ferry survey also indicated bank boards are getting smaller - 15 members on average, compared with 17 in 1994 - and have fewer inside directors.
Mr. Coleman said the banking industry is following the lead of corporate America, where shareholders are demanding more independent boards that are less controlled by internal management.