Female Corporate Leadership Numbers Stall, Which Is TroublingS

The corporate glass ceiling proved too goddamned impenetrable for women this year, according to a depressing new study from Catalyst which found that very few women joined U.S. corporate boards or executive teams in 2012. But but but Marissa Mayer!? But nothing. She and Sheryl Sandberg — the only other notable woman who made headlines for snagging a high-powered board seat — are the exceptions to the rule. It's probably all our fault for being such flaky baby-having sloths who choose lower-level jobs.

Bloomberg and Catalyst have the facts: as of June 30, women only held 14.3 percent of executive positions at Fortune 500 companies and 16.6 percent of board seats. Less than a fifth of those elite companies had 25 percent or more board seats filled by women, and more than a quarter had absolutely zero women in executive roles — but 51 Fortune 500 companies had all-male directors.

More women must have landed executive officer positions ("defined as president or any vice president in charge of a principal business unit of the company"), right? Nah, hardly. The number of women in those positions rose 1.4 percent this year from 2011, which is Not Good. Actually, it's "glacial," according to Catalyst's report. It means we're stalled, and we shouldn't be too distracted by Mayer and Sandberg's symbolic victories to demand greater gender parity in the corporate world.

"The lack of progress toward closing this gender leadership gap is, to put it frankly, troubling," said Rachel Soares, a senior research associate at New York-based Catalyst and lead author of the report. "The companies that are taking deliberate and sustained actions to advance women in leadership are in the vast minority, and all the work that they're doing is only providing enough momentum to maintain the status quo of women lagging men."

And all this is despite the fact that it has been statistically proven that companies perform much, much better when they have women directors. Massive companies (with market caps of over $10 billion) that included women on their boards had stock prices that outperformed their peers by 26% over six years. That is not a negligible amount and this is not a game of Monopoly. Why can't big corporations figure this out before everyone loses, even the bro-iest of bankers who don't want anyone to rain on their holiday stripper party parade?

Partially because the disparity starts years before women can actually become board members and executives. Another Businessweek article today reports that the pay gap among graduates of elite business schools, which was "virtually non-existent" a decade ago, is now widening; women earn a nickle less than they used to in their first post-MBA jobs for every dollar earned by their male peers. WAIT WHAT WHY STOP. "The gap numbers at the beginning are not very large and can be mostly accounted for by a differences in grades, course selection and the fields people are starting in," said Marianne Bertrand, an economics professor at Booth and a co-author of the study. "What is much more striking is how much that gap grows over time." Indeed; a nickle might not seem like much, but the number of women taking high-paying investment banking jobs slipped from 6 percent in 2002 to 2 percent today. Those nickles add up.

Catalyst is pissed about this new data and wants to come up with a solution. To start, they're building a directory of CEO-backed female board candidates and plan to encourage member companies to both nominate women for the list and, who knows, maybe even check it out once in a while when it comes time to promote employees. "It's not fun to write the same headline year after year," said Brande Stellings, vice president of corporate board services. We feel you.

[Businessweek]

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