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Catalyst Census Finds Significant Gap Between Two Tiers of America's Largest Companies in Number of Women Board Directors

America’s 500 largest companies are significantly more likely to have at least one woman board director than the next largest group, according to the 1999 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 1000. Eighty-four percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one woman on their board; only 62 percent of Fortune 501-1000 companies have women directors. Further, 190 companies in the Fortune 501-1000 group have no woman board directors, compared to 81 in the Fortune 500.

 Graph 1

For the first time, Catalyst has expanded its annual count of women board directors to include the entire Fortune 1000. Since the first Catalyst Census in 1993, the number of Fortune 500 companies with at least one woman board director has increased by 21 percent. According to Catalyst President Sheila Wellington, "It is our belief that by shining a spotlight on the full Fortune 1000 list, we will eventually see similar growth."

The divide between the two tiers of companies becomes even more pronounced when focusing on multiple women directors: 39 percent of the Fortune 500 have two or more women directors vs. 20 percent in the Fortune 501-1000 (nearly a 2:1 ratio). Fortune 500 companies are more than four times more likely than the Fortune 501-1000 to have three or more women directors (45 Fortune 500 companies compared to 10 Fortune 501-1000 companies.)

However, even within the Fortune 500, scant progress has been made since 1998. According to the 1999 census:
• The percentage of board seats held by women in the Fortune 500 has gone up by only one-tenth of one percent, from 11.1 percent in 1998 to 11.2 percent in 1999.
• The number of companies with at least one woman director is down by two percent, from 429 companies (86 percent of the F500) in 1998 to 419 companies (84 percent) in 1999.

There is one index in the Census, however, that has risen consistently year after year: the number of companies with multiple women board members. For example, the number of companies with more than one woman director has increased this year to 196 from last year’s 188. In 1994, there were 146 companies with more than one woman director. Five years ago, there were only 19 boards boasting three or more women; now that number has more than doubled to 45 this year.

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"Additional analyses of change over time in the Fortune 500 show that the percent of companies with multiple women board directors is rising," says Wellington, "while the percent of companies with zero women directors is getting smaller. At the same time, the percent of companies with one woman director remains virtually unchanged."

This year, Catalyst was able to obtain data on women-of-color board directors from 777 companies. Out of the 8,463 board seats among those companies, only 159 are held by women of color, thus comprising 1.9 percent of the total board seats. African-American women represent the largest minority group among these directors, accounting for 111 of the 159 board seats. Hispanic/Latina women hold 25 board seats, Asian women account for 18 seats, and 5 board seats are listed as held by "Other."

Catalyst is the nonprofit research and advisory organization that works with business to advance women. Its dual mission is to enable professional women to achieve their maximum potential and to help employers capitalize fully on the talents of their female employees. In 1993, Catalyst published its first Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 to measure women’s progress in corporate governance arenas and, in 1996, launched the Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners. For more information about Catalyst and this Census, please visit our web site at or call 212-514-7600.