Analysis: Exits show how few women make it to CEO in U.S.

Wed Sep 7, 2011 3:14pm EDT
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - For advocates of gender equality, this week's ouster of two of Corporate America's most powerful women served as a reminder of how little progress U.S. companies have made in promoting women to executive positions.

In particular, Yahoo Inc's decision to fire Chief Executive Carol Bartz -- by phone, no less -- pointed out how few women had made it to the top of companies tracked in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

That roster dropped to 17, a little more than 3 percent of the total, after Bartz's exit. The news came late on Tuesday, the same day that Bank of America Corp removed Sallie Krawcheck as head of its global wealth and investment management business.

"While the ouster of a number of top Wall Street women cannot necessarily be tied directly to the glass ceiling or sexism per se, the numbers aren't good," said Deborah Ancona, a professor of organization studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. "Women fill a minority of top leadership positions in corporate America."

While women represent about half of the nation's white-collar workers, their numbers thin as one looks up the organizational chart. They represent just 14.4 percent of executive officers at Fortune 500 companies, according to data from Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that advocates for women in business.

The number of women at the top of S&P 500 companies has inched up over the past decade, from five in 2001 to 18 at the end of 2010, according to data from executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

"If you want to call that progress, I think that's pretty bad," said Deborah Soon, a senior vice president at Catalyst. "That's an 'F,' quite frankly."


<p>Former Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz gestures during her appearance at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>