Gender equity requirement proposed for tax incentive program

The Revenue Committee heard testimony March 15 on a bill that would require gender equity on the boards of companies receiving state business tax incentives.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist07' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Tony Vargas'>Sen. Tony Vargas</a>
Sen. Tony Vargas

LB724, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would amend the Nebraska Advantage Act so that a domestic corporation with a board of directors would not qualify for incentives under the act unless at least 50 percent of the company’s board of directors is female.

If a taxpayer fails to meet that requirement at any time during the period that the taxpayer is entitled to receive incentives, the incentives would be subject to recapture and disallowance. The requirement would apply to applications submitted on or after the date LB724 goes into effect.

The bill defines female as “an individual who self-identifies as a woman, without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

Vargas said the bill is meant to address a persistent gender pay gap and the relatively low number of women in leadership roles in Nebraska companies. He said companies that include women on their boards have a higher return on equity, more innovative ideas and a stronger emphasis on research and development. Those are exactly the companies the current tax incentive program intends to attract, Vargas said.

“We have the opportunity to use the Nebraska Advantage Act—which has done a wonderful job of growing investment in our state—to incentivize publicly traded companies to provide more leadership roles for women,” he said.

Tiffany Seibert Joekel testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Women’s Fund of Omaha. Women comprise 50.1 percent of Nebraska’s population and nearly half of its workforce, she said, but they are not equally represented in corporate leadership roles, even though women in Nebraska are more highly educated than men.

“We believe equal representation in board positions is critical to impacting gender equity throughout a company,” Seibert Joekel said. “In order to achieve gender equity in the workplace, it helps to have women at the top to help implement changes that will impact the workforce at every level.”

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, also testified in support. Federal and state laws have required companies to pay women and men equally for the same work for more than 50 years, Conrad said, but under current trends in Nebraska it will take until 2066 for the private market to correct the gender wage gap, which she said is even more pronounced for women of color.

“By building up a culture of leadership and gender equity and diversity in the boardroom,” Conrad said, “we think that this is one creative approach to address the wage gap and to inspire more women to be involved in corporate governance and leadership in our state.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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