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Women Remain Distinct Minority in California's Corporate Executive Suites, Boardrooms

November 19, 2009

Women in Business 2009

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Despite decades of public pressure to shatter the so-called “glass ceiling,” women remain a distinct minority in the boardrooms and executive suites of California’s 400 largest companies, according to a University of California, Davis, study released today.

Men still hold roughly nine out of every 10 top management and board positions, a ratio that has remained largely unchanged in the five years that the UC Davis Graduate School of Management has conducted its annual Study of California Women Business Leaders.

For the first time, the report also starts to explore the consequences of the gender inequity and cites preliminary findings that suggest companies with women executives and board members may be more socially responsible.

“Our findings paint a disappointing picture of corporate gender equity in California, the world's eighth-largest economy,” said Steven C. Currall, dean of the Graduate School of Management. “When we released our study each of the past four years, it was met with intense interest by the business community, state legislators, policymakers and the media. Yet, overall, little has changed.

“In today’s global marketplace, where diverse backgrounds, skills and experience are critical for strategic and operational decisions, having more women involved at the highest levels of business management and corporate governance is likely to result in more profitable and well-managed companies,” Currall said. “Our aim is to enhance diversity at the top of the corporate hierarchy.”

The study, the only one of its kind in California, relies on information that publicly traded companies must report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. It included reports filed up to May 15, 2009.

The survey found that women hold just 10.6 percent of board seats and executive positions in California’s largest 400 firms. That figure represents a slight decline from 10.9 percent in 2008. The number was 10.4 percent in 2007 and 10.2 percent in 2006.

“The business world is in dire need of a greater number of connected, empowered and effective women leaders,” said Wendy Beecham, chief executive officer of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives, a Silicon Valley organization that partners with UC Davis to produce the study.

The census found that nearly a third of the state’s biggest companies — 118 of the 400 — have no women at the top, either on their boards or in their executive offices. Such companies included National Semiconductor, Callaway Golf, Hansen Natural, Quiksilver and Synnex.

In contrast, there was not a single company in the top 400 with no men in top management positions.

Only 15 of the top 400 have a woman CEO, up slightly from 13 a year ago. One of those is Bare Escentuals, a cosmetics company based in San Francisco. With five women on its board, Bare Escentuals finished atop this year’s list and was the only company with women holding half of its top management and board positions.

The ranks of women are thinnest in corporate boardrooms. Women occupy 320 of 3,252 board seats in the top 400 companies — just 9.8 percent. Almost half of the top 400 — 46 percent — have no women directors; another 34 percent have just one.

Women held 321 of 2,770 executive offices in the top 400 — just 11.6 percent. But essentially half — 49 percent — of those companies had no women executives. Only 79 — less than 20 percent -- had two or more. Executive officers include, but are not limited to, CEOs, CFOs, chief operating officers and chief information officers.

The top 25 companies with the greatest number of women in executive suites and boardrooms included some of the state’s most prominent companies: Jack in the Box at No. 5; Edison International in a tie for eighth place; Clorox at No. 14; Peet’s Coffee & Tea at No. 18; Health Net at No. 19; and Disney at No. 22.

San Francisco city and county had the highest percentage of women executive officers — 17.3 percent — among counties with 20 or more firms in the top 400. Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, had the most companies — 117 of the 400 — yet the lowest representation of women — 8.2 percent — in boardrooms.

“The results show that we have a lot more work to do,” said Jacqueline Jaszka, a UC Davis MBA student who worked on the study. The annual survey was a factor in Jaszka’s decision to apply to the UC Davis business school.

“It’s disappointing, in such a progressive state with so many businesses and such a variety of industries, that women still are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions,” Jaszka said.

With the statewide numbers little changed, researchers began this year to seek answers to questions raised by the survey.

“These data do not tell us why women occupy such a small minority of the board and top management positions in California’s largest firms,” Donald Palmer, an associate dean and management professor, wrote in this year’s study. “In all likelihood, it is not because very few women enter the managerial ranks.”

Women earned more than 20 percent of business and management masters’ degrees nationally as early as 1980, and their share of such degrees has increased steadily since, reaching 40 percent in recent years, Palmer noted.

“Whatever is driving this, it’s certainly resistant to change,” he said.

Researchers have begun to examine the consequences of the stark gender imbalance at the top of large corporations. Several studies indicate that companies with more women on their boards and in their executive suites perform better financially.

Companies with women leaders also may be more socially responsible, according to Palmer.

Palmer, who directed this year’s research, used the latest census data to conduct an additional analysis of the possible effect of women leaders on a company’s commitment to environmentally responsible practices.

His analysis focused on 62 of the state’s top 400 companies that were included in a September 2009 Newsweek magazine study of the environmental performance among the top 500 U.S. corporations.

Of the 62 overlapping companies, those that had no women directors or executives had the poorest environmental performance, Palmer found. Firms that had both women managers and directors had the best environmental performance.

Palmer's additional results are preliminary and based on a small sample. Nonetheless, “taken together with our other census findings, they suggest that not only do California’s largest firms admit fewer women into their boards and top management teams, but their corporate social performance suffers as a result,” Palmer concluded.

For more information and to download the full report, visit http://www.gsm.ucdavis.edu/census. To hear a recorded press briefing about the report, visit http://urelations.ucdavis.edu/media/audio/womens_study.mp3.

The full census includes appendices of all 400 companies ranked by percentage of women directors and executive officers; the 400 companies listed alphabetically; and companies listed by county.

About the Graduate School of Management

Established in 1981, the Graduate School of Management has enjoyed national prominence for more than a decade. It has been ranked among the top 50 public and private business schools by U.S. News & World Report for the past 14 years.

The school has 120 students enrolled in a daytime MBA program at Gallagher Hall on the UC Davis campus and more than 450 working professional students at campuses in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

About the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives

Founded in 1993, FWE&E describes itself as the definitive community in the Bay Area for accomplished women thought leaders and decision makers. The organization connects more than 500 women leaders with people and ideas to enhance businesses, communities and the world. The forum will conduct a seminar, including a panel entitled "Moving the Needle — A Dialogue About Diversity in the C Suite and on Boards," on Thursday in East Palo Alto. For more information, visit http://www.fwe.org.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Media contact(s):

  • Tim Akin, Graduate School of Management, (530) 752-7362, tmakin@ucdavis.edu
  • Wendy Beecham, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives, (415) 272-4242, wendy@fweande.org
  • News Service, (530) 752-1930

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