Despite the amount of research showing that companies with diverse boards perform better than those without, the percentage of women on corporate boards remains low.

According to the 2020 Women on Boards initiative, last year, the percentage of women on U.S. company boards of Fortune 1000 companies was just 17.7 percent. While that’s up from 2013’s figure of 16.6 percent, it’s not good enough yet,  2020 contends, which is why it has set its sights on getting 20 percent female representation on company boards by the year 2020.

Carrie Coghill.  CEO of Coghill Investment Strategies, says she doesn’t get frustrated by the conversation about female underrepresentation on corporate boards, even though it’s one that’s been ongoing for a while now.

“We’re trying to culturally change something; it’s like turning a huge ship,” Coghill says. “It’s going to take time.”

For the first time in its five-year history, the 2020 Women on Boards‘ National Conversation on Board Diversity will include a Pittsburgh event. Thousands of high-level executives will convene in 19 cities to consider this year’s strategic question: “Recruiting Beyond the C-Suite: Why and How Do Winning Companies Recruit to Maximize Board Effectiveness?”

Courtesy Carrie Coghill.

Courtesy Carrie Coghill.

Coghill says she knew she had to get Pittsburgh involved in the 2020 conversation. She and Christy Uffelman of  Align Leadership are co-chairing the event, which will include presentations by their own companies as well as ATI, EY, FedEx Ground, Jones Day, PNC, PPG, and WESCO.

The sold-out event is aimed at raising awareness about the benefits that gender diversity brings to corporate boardrooms. The 2020 Women on Boards initiative was started in Boston in 2010, with a focus on increasing the percentage of women on public company boards by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Progress has been made, according to 2020’s research: The percentage of women on U.S. company boards of Fortune 1000 companies rose from 16.6 percent in 2013, to 17.7 percent in 2014. Back in 2011, the first year 2020 complied its statistics, just 14.6 percent of corporate boards were female.

And there are bright spots in workplace equality, Coghill adds, due in large part to advances in technology that allow more flexible work arrangements for women and men.

The Pittsburgh event, which is Thursday at the Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, will feature a keynote address by Richard Harshman, president and CEO of Allegheny Technologies. He’ll receive the inaugural award for what Coghill calls his “outstanding commitment to and demonstrated efforts in board diversity and inclusion.” Three of the 11 members of ATI’s board of directors are women.

Coghill wants to see companies and participants at the event take away lessons about how women can become board-ready, and how to implement changes at their own companies. “So many smart people understand the value of having more diverse leadership,” she says. “We’re hoping we can continue the work of moving the needle in the right direction.”