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Despite Women's Gains in Business, Their Representation on America's Corporate Boards Barely Improves

A Call to Action in a New Era of Corporate Governance

The 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 released today shows that women now hold 779 board seats or 13.6 percent of Fortune 500 seats, an increase from 12.4 percent in 2001. The number of seats held by women of color has increased, from 2.5 percent in 1999 to only 3.0 percent in 2003.

"At only 13.6 percent, women’s representation on Fortune 500 boards of directors doesn’t adequately reflect their influence and impact on the U.S. economy as wage earners, managers, professionals, consumers, investors, and business owners," said Ilene H. Lang, Catalyst President.

Another key finding in the 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 is that all of the top 100 companies in the Fortune ranking have at least one woman director. These companies also have the highest average number of women directors per company, at 2.0, as well as the highest percentage of women directors, at 16.0 percent.

Despite the slow pace of change, there are some bright spots:

• In 1995, 96 companies had no women on their boards, and today that number has decreased to 54.

• In 2003, 54 companies made the Catalyst Honor Roll (companies with 25 percent or more women directors) up from 30 companies in 2001 and 11 companies in 1995.

As a woman who has served on both public and private boards for seven years, Lang emphasized that the business case for board diversity is strengthened as changes in board regulations in connection with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 are implemented. "Board independence and board diversity go hand in hand," said Lang.

The 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. 

"By demanding slates that reflect specific business competencies and a diverse pool of candidates, boards can ensure that they are not overlooking the important and underrepresented resource of women," said Douglas N. Daft, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company.

Catalyst doesn’t only count the number of women on boards. Since 1977, Catalyst has worked with companies to identify qualified women candidates through its Corporate Board Placement service.

"We are in a new era of corporate governance," said Lang. "The profile of the ideal board director is changing, and nominating committees will have to search farther afield for qualified candidates. We see these changes as good omens for higher numbers of women in future Catalyst censuses."

Catalyst is the leading research and advisory organization working to advance women in business, with offices in New York, San Jose, and Toronto. As an independent, not-for-profit membership organization, Catalyst uses a solutions-oriented approach that has earned the confidence of business leaders around the world. Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women’s career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services on a global basis to help companies and firms advance women and build inclusive work environments. In addition, we honor exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with our annual Catalyst Award. Catalyst is consistently ranked No. 1 among U.S. nonprofits focused on women’s issues by The American Institute of Philanthropy. For additional information, please visit our web site at or call 212-514-7600.