Women Still Underrepresented As CEOs, Board Members

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By Rhonda Smith

Jan. 12 — Despite women's advancements in business and management and efforts over the past decade to “smash the glass ceiling,” positions involving higher levels of economic decision-making remain elusive for them, according to a report released Jan. 12 by the International Labor Organization.

Guy Ryder, ILO director general, said in “Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum” that females worldwide still face myriad hurdles that impede their ability to become chief executive officers or board members.

“More concerted efforts and advocacy are needed to share information on the benefits of utilizing women's talent and skills at all levels, including in the boardroom,” Ryder said.

The larger the company or organization, the less likely its chief executive will be a woman, the report said. It added that only 5 percent or less of the CEOs of the world's largest corporations are women.

In the U.S., the report said women held 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions in 2013, according to data provided by Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit organization in New York City that promotes inclusive workplaces for women. In the U.S., women held 16.6 percent of board seats of the Fortune 500 in 2012, “the seventh consecutive year of no improvement,” the report said.

Citing CTPartners, a global executive search firm, the report said that among the Fortune 1000, women comprised less than 15 percent of board members in 2011, and there were 139 boards with no women directors.

The report is based on a 2013 survey conducted by the ILO's Bureau for Employers' Activities of some 1,300 private sector companies in 39 developing countries. It also is based on five regional workshops the ILO held in 2012 and 2013 for employers and private sector representatives and gender authorities in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Russian Commonwealth.

Tied to Business Outcomes?

“Academics and analysts have been examining to what extent more gender balance in management teams and boards actually improves business performance and if the ‘bottom line' is negatively affected when all decision-makers are men only,” the report said. It added that several important studies have concluded “that women's participation in decision-making is positive for business outcomes, though some indicated there might not be a direct causal link.”

The ILO report cited 2007 research by McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm based in New York City, that found that European-listed firms with more women in their management teams had 17 percent higher stock price growth between 2005 and 2007. In addition, their average operating profit was almost double their industry average, the McKinsey report found.

The ILO paper said a 2011 report by Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with the most female board directors outperformed those with the least number of female board members by 16 percent on return on sales, among other factors, such as return on invested capital.

“While there is considerable research on how gender balance in management impacts the bottom line, making causal links is still a challenge,” the report said. “It has been noted that companies that promote women to top jobs are often those that invest a great deal in research, innovation and technology.”

Experience, Family Challenges

One reason it can be difficult for women to be selected for top management jobs is because “[t]hey have not been exposed to all types of company operations during their careers and thus have not gained sufficient experience in general management across several functional areas,” the report said.

“The concentration of women in certain types of management reflects the ‘glass walls' phenomenon,” it added, “which is segregation by gender within management occupations.”

The report listed 14 barriers to women's leadership in companies. The first was “women have more family responsibilities than men,” followed by “roles assigned by society to men and women,” and “masculine corporate culture.”

The report also said, “Many women report they do not want to be the subject of special treatment or quotas, but what they do need are flexible solutions to manage work and family time commitments. This is also increasingly true for men who want to spend more time with their families.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the report is available at http://op.bna.com/ccw.nsf/r?Open=sbon-9sxqwp.