On Tuesday morning, February 26, 2008, the Women’s Executive Circle of New York (WECNY) held a kick-off event to launch their seminal research report, “2007 New York Census: The State of Women Business Leaders in New York State.”
The research study examined the number of women serving on boards of directors and as high-level executives at the top 100 companies in New York. This exciting research was sponsored by KPMG, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Citi Smith Barney, and RR Donnelley, in partnership with Cornell University. The full study can be accessed on the WECNY website.
At the WECNY event on Tuesday, Linda Descano, head of Women & Co. at Citi, and Bonnie Kintzer of Reader’s Digest both served on a panel where they discussed getting to the top of their professions from different paths. Bonnie explained that going to Harvard Business school had given her a “stamp of approval” when doing business, while Linda rose to the top by focusing on specific professional certifications, like obtaining her CFA license. Linda also talked about how she built an exceptional network through which she developed mentoring relationships and gained boardroom experience.
Nicki Gilmour, Publisher and CEO of The Glass Hammer, attended the WECNY event. When asked about her impression of the speakers, Nicki said, “Bonnie’s words resonated with me when she advised the audience to work with companies with both good people and good products.”
Nicki further explained, “I had the pleasure of sitting beside Interface board member and long-term environmental champion Dianne Dillion-Ridgely, who made many great points in the Q&A about how we as a society look at gender. For example, ‘jobs for the boys’ is a phrase we all know, since we speak in terms of male and female, but perhaps we should be referring to the workplace as patriarchal in structure instead of male-dominated in order to engage the men?”
The WECNY study found that, although women have made tremendous strides in the last fifteen years in terms of securing representation on corporate boards and in executive offices, there is still a substantial gender gap, and women have a long way to go before they achieve parity in the corporate world.
The study examined the top 100 revenue-producing public companies headquartered in New York state in 2006, according to Crain’s. What the researchers discovered might surprise you.
For instance, women hold only 15.6% of the 1,129 board seats in the 100 largest companies in New York. Similarly, women account for only 11.9% of the 354 executive officers in New York’s largest public companies. For purposes of this study, executive officer was defined those holding positions of CEO, CFO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Information Officer, and General Counsel.
When you consider that women make up 49% of New York’s workforce and 52% of the voting population, it becomes clear that women are significantly underrepresented at the highest levels of corporate leadership.
While 14% of the companies studied had no women on their board, and only two had more than five women serving on their board (Estée Lauder and The New York Times), most others fell somewhere in the middle. 24% of companies had one female director, while 41% had two or more women on the board, and 21% had three or more female directors.
Only four of the top 100 companies had women serving as their CEOs: Ann Taylor, Avon, The New York Times and Pepsico. But these companies had done a good job of “priming the pump” by developing female executive talent at the lower levels as well.
The study’s authors combined a “Top 25” list of the New York companies that have 20% or more female directors and top executives. The four female-led companies listed above all made the list. In addition, the following companies made the top ten: Merrill Lynch, NYSE Group, Eastman Kodak, Scholastic Corp and Polo Ralph Lauren. Pepsi Bottling Corp, listed separately from Pepsico (listed at number 15), also made the top 10.
Yesenia Scheker-Izquierdo, Co-Founder and Co-President, WECNY, and Senior Manager, KPMG LLP, explained the significance of the study and its implications on the next generation of women leaders. She said, “the business case for diversity in leadership and senior management is clear. Women are definitely making headway in the executive suite and in the boardroom and we hope that young women aspiring to become business leaders are encouraged by the progress women have made in attaining leadership positions.”
Ms. Scheker offered the following advice to young women thinking of building a career in business. “I would advise young women in business today to find a mentor, male or female, to build a network and to take calculated risks – ask for additional responsibility, for an international assignment and/or to work on a high profile project – and in this way position themselves for future leadership positions.”
With the combination of encouraging news and areas for improvement laid out clearly by this study, the next generation of female executives has their work cut out for them.