More women and minorities are being elected to corporate boards, but leadership positions on the boards remain dominated by white men in most corporations, according to a new study co-written by a University of Missouri business faculty member.

The study found that women and minorities are less likely to be elected board chairperson or chair of the boards' audit, compensation, nominating or governance committees, despite having as much or more experience and qualifications as white men elected to the leadership positions.

"Our first natural inclination was to look at their qualifications," said Adam Yore, assistant professor of finance in the Trulaske College of Business at the university.

Public corporations are required to file a lot of information with the Securities and Exchange Commission about candidates for board leadership positions, which is what the study relied upon. The research analyzed 2,000 public corporations over 11 years, beginning in 2006.

"We really couldn't find any evidence that they were less qualified," Yore said of the women and minority candidates for board leadership positions.

"At the Table But Can't Break Through the Glass Ceiling: Board Leadership Positions Elude Diverse Directors" is being published in the "Journal of Financial Economics."

It's not good for business to not have the highest-qualified leadership in important posts, Yore said.

"As a shareholder, you really want the best and the brightest leading the boards," Yore said. "Some of the most talented individuals on the boards aren't being appointed to positions of authority to make decisions."

The SEC in 2010 adopted a rule requiring public companies to disclose if they have diversity policies in place, or not. Many corporations adopted diversity policies after that, Yore said. The study found that in corporations with diversity policies, there were more women and minority leadership on corporate boards.

"Those firms that were sensitive to this issue, our results were weaker," Yore said.

It also made a positive difference when there was a woman or minority on the board's nominating committee, he said.

Teresa Maledy, a former regional chair and CEO of Commerce Bank, said her impression is that more opportunities are opening for women and minorities in leadership positions on corporate boards and that time will remedy the discrepancies.

Many corporations are welcoming women and minorities to those leadership positions, she said.

She explained when she served at Commerce Bank, she was not chair of the corporate board, but of the the regional leadership team. She's now an elected member of the Columbia Board of Education.

Some studies of board leadership are dismissed because they don't consider qualifications of candidates for board leadership positions, said Mark Souther, assistant professor of finance at the University of South Carolina, another co-author. A third co-author is Laura Field, finance professor and finance department chairwoman at the University of Delaware.

"We know what the qualifications are," Souther said.

The study looked at the candidates' education, professional certifications, board experience and many other factors.

"Women and minorities are more qualified," Souther said of the candidates the study examined.

Governments of some nations require corporations to include women and minorities in leadership positions on corporate boards, Yore said. So do some states, including California.

"It's not inconceivable that the government could intervene," Yore said. "We've seen a little bit of self-regulatory response."

"It seems that if firms are thinking about these issues, that shows up in leadership," Souther said about the corporate diversity policies.

Research papers like this one can make a difference, Souther said.

"If we draw attention to these issues, corporations become more aware of these disparities and take action on their own," Souther said.

The research was funded by the individual universities, Yore said.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com