Men still vastly outnumber women in the top leadership roles within California’s 400 largest public companies, according to a UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM) census released in December.
The sixth annual GSM study, led by Professor Don Palmer, found that women hold just 9.5 percent of board seats and highest-paid executive positions overall amongst the 400 surveyed companies. Almost half of the companies, 45.8 percent, have no women in the board of directors, 68.3 percent have no women amongst the highest-paid executives and only 16 companies have a female CEO.
“There’s certainly an imbalance,” said Amanda Kimball, co-author of the study and Ph.D. candidate in economics at UC Davis. “As the dean [of the graduate school] put it, women present a resource for the company. Having multiple perspectives at the board room table would be valuable to the companies and many are missing out on that.”
The study found that the specific industry and the size of a company make a difference in terms of women’s representation in the top paid jobs. The real estate and financial sector have the highest percentages of women directors with 14.4 and 14 percent respectively, while the electronic hardware sector has the lowest at 4 percent. The largest companies have the largest boards and about four times as many women than the smallest companies.
Women’s representation also varies across geographical locations. San Francisco County has the highest percentage of women directors at 14.4 percent, while Orange County has 4 percent. Orange County also has only 4.5 percent of women amongst their highest paid executives compared to the Bay Area’s San Mateo County, which has the highest at 12.6 percent.
Kimball noted that the disproportionate distribution of women across management levels shows that women are not promoted at the same rate as men.
“Academic research shows that women are promoted into the first level of management at very high rates,” she said. “The fact that we don’t see women higher up shows that there’s a glass ceiling somewhere along the way. Somewhere lower in the organization, women are not promoted at the same rate as men.”
However there is evidence of progress toward a more equal gender representation, but any improvements are dismal and slow, Kimball said. For example, 159 of the companies hired 274 new directors across the last year and of those directors, more than 10 percent were women.
“That says that companies are doing something to equalize the imbalance because they’re hiring women into new positions at a higher rate than the overall frequency of women in those jobs,” she said. “But progress towards equalization is incredibly slow.”
UC Davis faculty members have proposed several reasons for the gender imbalance. Dr. Kimberlee Shauman, associate professor in the sociology department at UC Davis, said that the imbalance could be due to the corporate ideal of the best employee.
“Joan Williams [professor at UC Hastings College of the Law] says the ideal worker is the unencumbered worker: the person that has no responsibilities, no interests really outside of work…” Shauman said. “In our society, given that women tend to be more responsible for family care, women are less likely to meet that ideal. Increasingly, it’s also including men.”
Shauman said that companies should access whether their perception of the ideal employee is instead resulting in a loss of talented workers.
“We ignore the fact that it may not be best to expect people to work regularly 60 hours a week,” Shauman said. “And that in doing so, we lose a lot of talent that could be utilized toward increased productivity or profit. We assume the person who is available 24/7 is going to be the best employee.”
The census also highlights that California has 11 Fortune 100 companies – companies rated as the best to work for – and all of which have at least one female director.
Additionally, last year’s study found that having more women in the top leadership positions makes a company more likely to have a proactive environmental policy, Kimball said.
Still, Kimball said that we cannot access the full benefits of having an equal gender distribution until there is an actual balance of men and women.
“I know that there are a lot of people in business who would like to see the diversity to be a little more balanced,” she said.
The census can be found at gsm.ucdavis.edu/census.
MARTHA GEORGIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.