Women CEOs Still Rare Among Top 1000 Firms - Only 1.7%

Some 48% of the thousand largest U.S. firms had no woman in their official listings of principal executives, according to a new study by two Tuck School of Business researchers and a colleague from Loyola University Chicago. Of 942 companies analyzed over a six year period, only 7.2% had more than two women in the top ranks, and a mere 2.6% had more than three. 

On the basis of the number of women CFOs and the number of other female executives with high-level line positions (that is, with direct profit-and-loss responsibility), the authors estimate that the proportion of female CEOs will increase from the current level of about 1.7% to about 4.9% in 2010 and 6.2% in 2016.

"Even though 6.2% is more than triple the current percentage," comments professor ConstanceHelfat, "it doesn't seem very impressive when one considers that by 2016 it will have been about 40 years since women entered corporate management in force." 

Currently, 10 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women, up from 9 last year, and a total of 20 FORTUNE 1000 companies have women in the top job, according to Fortune.

The final database for the study consisted of 9,950 individuals (9,129 men and 821 women), each of whom was assigned to one of seven top corporate levels. Level one was CEO or board chairman; level two was second-in-command, often called president or COO; and levels three through seven were each a further step down in the hierarchy. The seven female CEOs in the sample represented 0.63 percent of the total executives at level one. Women constituted 1.65 percent of the executives at level two, 6.40 percent of those at level three, 10.43 percent of those at level four, and 12.80 percent of those at level five.

The principal factor influencing the number of female executives in a company, the researchers report, was its industry, with the results seeming predictable in some cases but not in others. Among the former group was trucking, where women constituted only 3.8% of high-ranking executives, and soaps and cosmetics, where the figure was 13.1%. Among the surprises: computer software (13.4%) and transportation equipment (15.7%) were among the top 10 industries in percentages of high-ranking women executives, while furniture (4.2%) was among the bottom 10.

Their findings, the authors believe, should impart new urgency to longstanding concerns about the lack of women CEOs in the corporate world. The study, entitled "The Pipeline to the Top: Women and Men in the Top Executive Ranks of U.S. Corporations," appears in the November issue of Academy of Management Perspectives, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal. Constance Helfat, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, carried out the study with Dawn Harris of Loyola University Chicago and Tuck colleague Paul J. Wolfson.

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