December 11, 2003
Women Sit in Less Than a Seventh of Fortune 500 Board of Director Seats
by William Baue
According to a new Catalyst report, women will inhabit less than a quarter of Fortune 500 board
director seats by 2023, though regulations and shareowner action may change this.
Women’s heads are smarting from hitting the glass ceiling, especially those women who are qualified
to serve on the boards of directors at US top companies. A new report says women sit in only 13.6
percent of board of director seats at Fortune 500 (F500) companies. The report was just released by
Catalyst, a research organization that
promotes women in business. Although this percentage is rising, from 12.4 percent in 2001 and 9.5
percent in 1995, it is doing so at a snail’s pace. According to Catalyst regression analyses of
the current rate of change, women will not make up one-quarter of board directors 20 years from
“At only 13.6 percent, women’s
representation on Fortune 500 boards of directors doesn’t adequately reflect their influence and
impact on the U.S. economy as wage earners, managers, professionals, consumers, investors, and
business owners,” said Ilene Lang, Catalyst’s president.
The Catalyst report, entitled
2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500, illustrates how women’s
representation in corporate ranks plummets as statistics climb the corporate ladder by means of a
pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, women comprise almost half (46.5 percent) of the US
workforce and hold over half (50.5 percent) of managerial and professional specialty jobs in the
US. However, women represent only 15.7 percent of F500 corporate officers, 7.9 percent of the
F500’s highest titles, 5.2 percent of the F500’s top earners, and there are merely 8 female CEOs of
There is some light shining on the glass ceiling. The number of F500
companies with no women on the board has decreased from 96 in 1995 to 54 in 2003. The same number
of companies, 54, made the 2003 Catalyst Honor Roll of companies 25 percent or more women
directors. The top ten companies on the honor roll include Golden West Financial (ticker: GDW--55.6 percent
female directors), Avon (AVP--54.5 percent), Pepsi Bottling
percent), and Xerox (XRX--33.3 percent). Coca-Cola (KO), which
sponsored the report, did not make it onto the honor roll, with only 14.3 percent of its board
seats filled by women.
Ms. Lang waxed optimistic for the future, stressing that the
business case for board diversity is strengthened by changes in board regulations in connection
with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Proposed changes in New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ
listing rules stipulated by Sarbanes-Oxley will require a majority of independent directors on
boards, a development that promises to increase board diversity.
“Board independence and
board diversity go hand in hand,” said Ms. Lang.
The Calvert Group, one of the largest socially responsible
investment (SRI) firms in the US, agrees.
“[A] growing body of academic research shows
that there is a significant positive relationship between the percentage of women or minorities on
boards and firm value,” states Calvert on its website.
Calvert is leading a major SRI
initiative on board diversity,
focusing particularly on women.
“We recently developed model language for boards to
incorporate into their nominating committee charters to include diversity objectives,” said Nikki
Daruwala, Calvert’s Senior Social Research Analyst and Shareholder Advocacy Coordinator.
Last year, Calvert filed a resolution at
nine companies on board diversity.
“We met with great success--Patterson Dental (PDCO) and WebMD (HLTH) adopted
Calvert's language, and Molex (MOLX) added its first women
director to the Board,” Ms. Daruwala told SocialFunds.com. “This season we have filed or are in
the process of filing a resolution on board diversity with eleven companies, and early next year,
we plan to file with a half-dozen additional companies.”
Among these companies are
American Power Conversion (APCC), Danaher (DHR), and Gateway (GTW).
“These companies were selected because none of them have any women or minorities on their
boards and all of them scored poorly on Calvert's governance standards,” added Ms. Daruwala.
Other SRI firms have also been conducting shareowner action promoting board diversity. For
example, Vancouver-based Real Assets Investment
Management is advancing a shareowner action campaign in the 2004 proxy season focused on
chipping the glass ceiling. Earlier this week, Real Assets filed resolutions with Open Text (OTC.TO) and Aastra
Technologies (AAH.TO) calling on management to
open opportunities for women, combat stereotyping, and improve gender diversity.
SRI World Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.