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Corporate America Is A No Woman’s Land Census Shows Only 10 Percent Of Corporate Officers Are Female

Fri., Oct. 18, 1996

What has long been suspected has now been proven: The top of corporate America is a no woman’s land.

For the first time, a census has been taken of the women who are corporate officers and who rank among the top five earners at the nation’s 500 largest companies, and the results are no better than expected.

Among the 12,997 corporate officers of the 500 companies, only 1,303 - or 10 percent - were women, according to Catalyst, a non-profit research and advocacy group for women that conducted the survey.

Among the 2,500 people who were listed as the top five earners in these companies’ 1995 proxy statements, only 50 - or 2 percent - were women.

Among the 2,430 people holding the title of chairman, chief executive, vice chairman, president, chief operating officer or executive vice president, only 57 - or 2.4 percent - were women.

And among the 978 women corporate officers having the title of executive vice president, senior vice president or vice president, only 271 - or 28 percent - held positions with responsibility for the sales and profit or loss of the business. Such operational responsibility is crucial to the continued climb up the corporate ladder.

“The numbers are pathetic,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. “It’s darn hard to find a shred of daylight in this.”

Women now make up 46.1 percent of the work force nationwide, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that women occupy 48 percent of managerial and professional slots, including vice presidents, office managers and middle-management titles. Using 1990 U.S. census data and academic surveys, the federal Glass Ceiling Commission estimated last year that women had captured fewer than 5 percent of the senior management positions.

The Catalyst survey used data contained in the 1995 annual reports and proxy statements of the 500 largest companies filed through last February, then queried the companies. To gauge progress, Catalyst also analyzed corporate filings from 1994, finding a slight improvement in each measure.

But the picture, in Wellington’s word, remains “dismal.” Presenting the new data at a breakfast in New York on Thursday, Wellington also noted that women occupied just 9.5 percent of the directorships at the 500 companies, according to Catalyst’s 1995 survey of board members.

“The numbers tell the story, and we believe that knowledge and facts form a basis for action in the business community,” Wellington said.

If so, more than 100 companies including Exxon, Nynex and Whirlpool that count no women among their corporate officers have work to do. At the other end of the spectrum, those with the highest proportion of women officers were the Student Loan Marketing Association (which is known as Sallie Mae), with 57 percent, the Corestates Financial Group, with 40 percent, and Pitney Bowes, also with 40 percent.

Catalyst found, as expected, that service industries had promoted more women to officer positions than manufacturing companies. Savings institutions were at the top of the list, followed by publishing, diversified financial companies and food services companies.

Only three companies - Sallie Mae, Avon Products and H.F. Ahmanson - had more than one woman in their roster of the five top officers.

John H. Bryan, chairman of Sara Lee Corp. and a member of Catalyst’s board, volunteered a year ago to provide corporate funds for the census. Thursday, he raised hopes, saying that Catalyst’s annual survey of directors had galvanized some companies to open their board rooms to women - though at last count 96 of the 500 big companies still lacked a single woman director.

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