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Catalyst 2008 Census of the Fortune 500 Reveals Women Gained Little Ground Advancing to Business Leadership Positions

Women’s overall representation in senior leadership roles continues to stagnate at a time when shareholders and decision-makers demand innovative thinking to address the current business crisis

Women’s advancement in corporate leadership continues to stagnate, with virtually no growth seen in women’s share of top positions, according to the 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 and the 2008 Catalyst Census of Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500. “Exceptional circumstances require exceptional leaders. Now more than ever, as companies examine how best to weather an economy in crisis, we need talented business leaders, and many of these leaders, yet untapped, are women,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst.

The reports show little change in the number of women in the upper echelons of major corporations. Specifically among women’s share of board director positions in the F500:

  • Women held 15.2 percent of board director positions, compared to 14.8 percent in 2007.
  • Women of color held 3.2 percent of all board director positions.
  • Little change occurred in the number of companies having zero, one, two, or three or more women directors, and the slight increase in companies with three or more women was offset by the slight increase in companies with zero women.
  • The number of women audit and compensation committee chairs continued to lag behind the overall representation of women board directors, even as women’s share of nominating/governance committee chairs continued to keep pace with their share of all directorships.

Overall representation of women corporate officers and top earners in the F500 continued to stagnate as well:

  • Women held 15.7 percent of corporate officer positions, compared to 15.4 percent in 2007.
  • Women held 6.2 percent of top earner positions, compared to 6.7 percent in 2007.
  • Little change occurred in the number of companies having zero, one, two, or three or more women corporate officers.

Catalyst continues its commitment to studying women of color in business, and this year’s Catalyst Census contains additional data on women of color board directors. The findings include:

  • Black women comprised 63.4 percent, Latinas 24.4 percent, and Asian women 11.6 percent of all women of color board director positions.
  • More than one woman of color serving on a board was rare, with only 4.0 percent of companies having two women of color directors serving together.

“No change in a year of change is unacceptable—for business, for investors, for policy makers, and for the public which looks to business leadership for innovative solutions and accountability,” said Ms. Lang. “Smart organizations will seize this opportunity to create credible, 21st century leadership that looks like the future, and bring women, including women of color, front and center into their leadership—on boards and in senior management.”

Ernst & Young is the sponsor of the 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 and the 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500. For media inquiries, please contact Serena Fong at 646-388-7757, [email protected], or Jeff Barth at 646-388-7725, [email protected].

The reports detail the gender diversity of corporate governance of Fortune 500 companies on the Fortune 500 list published May 5, 2008. Catalyst gathered data about these companies from public records, including annual reports, proxy statements, and company websites for the period from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008. The race/ethnicity of women directors was gathered using alternate sources, including previous Catalyst census data, people of color associations’ publications, and biographies. Catalyst emailed/called contacts at Fortune 500 companies to request the verification of the collected race/ethnicity data. A company was included in the race/ethnicity data set if 1) the race/ethnicity of each woman board director was identified or 2) there were no women board directors. In all, the sample for the race/ethnicity data is based on 94.2 percent of the Fortune 500 list—405 companies with complete race/ethnicity data for each woman board director and 66 companies with no women board directors.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.