Study shows female leaders scarce in corporate America


March 07, 2007|By HANAH CHO

So far in my seven-year career, I've had - count them - one female boss who has directly supervised me. It's even harder to think of many top-tier female managers I know.

I point this out not because I don't like male managers, but because my experience seems to reflect a larger concern about the dearth of female leaders in corporate America.

Despite some highly publicized appointments of women in executive roles during the past year, a new study of women corporate officers, top earners and directors in Fortune 500 companies shows that the number of females holding corporate officer positions declined in 2006.

Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization that works to expand opportunities for women at work, found that women held 15.6 percent of corporate officer positions, down from 16.4 percent in 2005, among all Fortune 500 companies.

The most recent figure puts female executives in almost the same position as 2002, when women held 15.7 percent of corporate officer positions.

"Women are still dramatically underrepresented in corporate officer positions and also underrepresented on boards of directors," says Lois Joy, Catalyst's director of research. "Growth has been glacially slow ... in the last five years."

Yet, there are examples of women climbing to the top of the corporate ladder. Last week, WellPoint Inc. named Angela Braly, the insurer's executive vice president and general counsel, as its president and chief executive officer after the company's CEO steps down June 1. WellPoint will become the largest Fortune 500 company headed by a woman.

And PepsiCo. recently said chief executive Indra K. Nooyi would assume the additional role of chairwoman of the soft drink and snack food company. Nooyi was appointed the company's chief executive last year after climbing the ranks since joining the PepsiCo. in 1994.

Catalyst says there are currently 10 female chief executive officers, or 2 percent of CEOs, among Fortune 500 companies. In 2005, 11 women served as the head of such companies.

The reality is that women still face obstacles such as stereotypes and lack of access to informal networks, mentors and role models, Joy says. "Advancement into those positions and gaining that leadership experience and having those opportunities are all things women aspire to but because of the barriers they face, they're not able to reach those goals," Joy says, noting some companies have put in place initiatives to help women advance in the workplace.

Among the Catalyst study's other findings:

The number of women holding board seats remained stagnant in 2006 at 14.6 percent compared with 14.7 percent in 2005.

Women of color held 3.1 percent of director positions last year, down from 3.4 percent in 2005.

Women in top-paying positions rose slightly to 6.7 percent in 2006 from 6.4 percent.

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