In heart of corporate America, women struggle to break into top jobs

Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:12pm EDT
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By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women have moved into top jobs at some of America's biggest and most recognized corporations including IBM, Pepsico and Archer Daniels Midland. But in their shadows, at the second tier of big U.S. companies, it's a different story.

A new snapshot of trends at mid-cap companies show women are far less likely than their male counterparts to reach top leadership positions at those firms.

On the bright side, however they are starting to close a pay gap with men and - in a cluster of industries - even out-earn them.

Researchers at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business surveyed about 2,000 executives at companies with stock market capitalization of $1 billion to $7 billion, so-called mid-cap firms.

They found that women made up 4.5 percent of the top leadership in 2010. That is far less than at larger firms, where other data show women make up about 14 percent of executive positions.

"What I find sobering about it is that we are still having an enormous difficulty getting through that ceiling," said Georgetown business professor Catherine Tinsley, who led the study.

She was echoing concerns that have been raised for decades about the so-called glass ceiling, the invisible barriers that prevent women executives from advancing. These historically have included everything from discrimination to lack of support for women who mother small children.

Among mid-cap companies, women executives are far more likely to be found in media, pharmaceutical and retail sectors, researchers found.   Continued...

Women work at a desk while sitting in front of artwork by artist Andres Serrano during the 2012 Armory Show art fair in New York March 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson