Knowledge Center

Women in U.S Corporate Leadership: 2003

A cornerstone of Catalyst’s research on women’s advancement, Women in U.S. Corporate Leadership: 2003, examines the experiences and perceptions of the Fortune 1000’s most senior women and the CEOs with whom they work. This report is a follow-up to the pioneering 1996 study, Women in Corporate Leadership: Progress & Prospects, which asked the same questions of senior-level women almost a decade ago. In this report, we examine current perceptions and experiences of senior-level women and CEOs, as well as contrast these findings to those in our 1996 study.

Impetus: This study was conducted to assess current experiences and perceptions of senior-level women and CEOs, as well as to gauge whether change has occurred for women in the workplace over the past seven years.


  • Initial 1996 study surveyed 461 women at the vice president level or above in Fortune 1000 companies.

  • Two waves of the same survey were sent in 2002, for an overall study sample of 705 senior-level women working in the Fortune 1000.

  • The CEO sample represents 119 individuals.

Findings: The findings of this study illustrate that there have been few dramatic changes in senior-level women’s attitudes and experiences within the past seven years. Overall, large majorities of women are satisfied with their current positions, employers, and compensation. Some challenges in the work environment include the availability of mentors, career advancement opportunities, and opportunities to network. Of those women not already in top leadership, most aspire to be there. Both women and CEOs agree that women have the desire and ability to reach senior levels. Additionally, women in 2003 and women in 1996 cite the same barriers to women’s advancement: lack of general management or line experience; exclusion from informal networks; and stereotypes and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities. CEOs agree that the top barrier to women’s advancement is a lack of general management or line experience. Both women and CEOs recommend that senior leaders assume accountability for women’s advancement in order for progress to continue.

Sponsor: General Motors Corporation