Women’s Progress in Executive Suite Flat Fifth Year in a Row


Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.  

Women have made no gains in the corporate boardroom or the executive suite in the last year. Nor have women increased their presence among companies’ top earners, according to the 2010 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors and the 2010 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners released yesterday.

According to the report,

  • Women held just 15.7 percent of board seats in 2010 rep resenting a mere 0.5 percentage points above 2009.
  • Women held only 14.4 percent of executive officer positions, up from 13.5 percent in 2009.
  • And as far as earning the big bucks, in 2010, women executive officers held only 7.6 percent of the top earner positions, up from 6.3 percent in 2009.

And progress was flat as far as the number of companies with no women serving on the board of directors (more than 10 percent) and the number of companies with no women executive officers. This is the fifth year women’s progress has remained flat. This is what we are talking about when we refer to the glass ceiling. Women still face both obvious and subtle barriers on their way to the corner office.

In fact, additional research from Catalyst (Mentoring: Necessary But Insufficient for Advancement,) shows that mentoring, long thought to be an effective tool for advancing a career, is more effective for men than women. According to the data, “men with mentors had starting salaries in their first post-MBA jobs that were, on average, $9,260 higher than the starting salaries of women with mentors.” The data also shows men receive more promotions than women and those promotions come with bigger raises – 21 percent vs. women’s two percent.

What does appear to be an effective strategy for advancing women, according to the research, is sponsorship, when a senior-level person advocates for a woman inside the organization. The learning here is that the traditional diversity and women’s programs are not enough. They are a good start, but businesses must put some muscle behind their memos. It’s the same reason we need legislation to support fair pay. The Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act represent progress, but they don’t solve the problem of unfair wages.

Businesses would do well to recognize the benefits of a diverse management team and take the steps to get there. Women are half the workforce and represent half the talent pool.  And doesn’t it just make sense that if a business is trying to reach a diverse (read not just white male) customer base, it should add different perspectives to its corporate thought process?

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