Women Make Inroads On Boards

Cecily Cannan Selby, the first woman on Avon Products Inc.’s board, says she recalls a tense dinner meeting with male colleagues when one offered her a cigar.

“When I accepted I could feel them all relax,” said Selby, who in the early 1970s was a pioneer in the clubby, male dominated upper echelons of American business.

Now, about 570 women serve on boards of the country’s largest companies and a survey of chief executive officers released Tuesday shows many corporate leaders have made recruiting women directors a priority.

In the study, conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit research and consulting group, 85 percent of CEOs surveyed emphasized what they called the importance of having female directors. Nonetheless, only 52 percent of the companies have a woman on the board, and women comprise less than 7 percent of total seats.

“With CEOs committed to bringing women into the board room we expect the trend upwards to continue,” said Sheila Wellington, Catalyst’s president. “It’s good for business and for the country.”