January 09, 2008
Gender Diversity in US Corporations
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

Dan's post regarding gender diversity on boards makes some very significant points, particularly about the importance of critical mass.  Many scholars worry that without critical mass, women will be marginalized, less willing to voice their opinions, and in some cases, experience pressure to conform.  But Dan's point about critical mass also reminded me about the relative lack of critical mass in American corporations. 

The latest Catalyst study reveals that women not only hold a small percentage of corporate board seats and other leadership positions at major companies, but also that the growth in such positons was stagnant from 2006 to 2007.  According to the study, the percentage of women board members, corporate officers, and top corporate earners was virtually unchanged from 2006 to 2007 at 14.8%, 15.4%, and 6.7%, respectively.  Moreover, the percentage of women in line positions--which analysts believe represents important gateways for promotion into top leadership positions--fell by 1.8% from 29% to 27.2%.  To be sure, the story is not all about decline or stagnation.  The number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies rose from 10-12.  Also, according to the Catalyst study, the number of women holding board committee chairs increased over the past year.  However, the relative stagnant growth in numbers for women business leaders suggests that women may be at an impasse, a concern raised by some scholars who worry about company executives who no longer feel inclinded to promote women once a few have been elevated to leadership positions.

Of course, many have recognized that the number of women in these positions is relatively low.  Indeed, Douglas Bronson's book No Seat at the Table is a good example of this recognition.  However, there is considerable debate about the impact of women on boards and as executive officers (economic or otherwise).  As Dan suggests, with such a small US sample size, it is difficult to get real insight into that debate.  But while we wait for the US sample size to improve, it will be nice to have some comparable data from other countries.

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