The annual UC Davis study of California business leaders reported disappointing results – women are significantly underrepresented in the top levels of the state’s largest firms.
The UC Davis Graduate School of Management and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives publish the study annually, which reports the numbers of women in director and executive officer positions in the top 400 corporations in California.
According to the report, women occupy only 10.9 percent of board seats and top executive officer positions. Statistics show a minimal increase from the 9.4 percent of women directors in last year’s report.
“Major California companies are underutilizing the talents of women who hold only about 11 percent of top decision making positions,” said Nicole Woolsey Biggart, dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.
The key findings show that almost 30 percent of the state’s 400 largest companies do not have female representation in a top executive position or on the board of directors. Forty-eight percent do not have a woman in an executive officer position and only 13 percent have a female CEO.
“We cannot say from our study why this is the case,” said UC Davis professor Donald Palmer, who also led the research. “But other research suggests that the reasons include simple discrimination and the absence of organizational structures that make it feasible for women to play a central role in the bearing and rearing of children while at the same time pursuing a career at work.”
Discrimination and the absence of organizational structures likely affect women’s chances of promotion at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. To change the percentage of women at the top, changes have to be made at multiple levels of the corporate hierarchy, Palmer said.
Research suggests that companies which are diverse at top positions have better financial returns and greater financial stability, Biggart said in an e-mail interview.
The study says the location, company size and the industry also make a difference.
“We continue to find that the largest firms tend to have the highest percentage of women directors,” said Palmer in an e-mail interview. “And firms in high-tech industries, like computer hardware, and Santa Clara County – the heart of Silicon Valley – tend to have the lowest percentage of women top managers and directors.”
Wendy Beecham, CEO of FEW&E, said that the current situation is due to the combination of gender differences, stereotyping for men and women and the corporate culture. Women also face a challenge in how they are connected into the informal power network at their workplace.
“[Women] need to learn skills to break into those networks,” Beecham said. “Women need to say yes when they are offered more CEO roles. Research shows women feel uncomfortable accepting a role if they don’t have 100 percent of the qualifications.”
Beecham said men will accept if they feel they have 60 percent of the qualifications.
A high percentage of baby boomers are going to be retiring in the next 10 years, which translates into a change of leadership, Beecham said. The female demographic has the highest potential for leadership because they are available to fill open positions, she said.
“When an organization has a more diverse management team, [its] financial results are better,” Beecham said. “In this economic climate that’s critical.”
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.