Advancing Women Leaders

The connection between women board directors and women corporate officers.

September 18, 2008
by Catalyst

Over the past several decades, businesses have become more inclusive of women, dismantling many of the traditional barriers to women's advancement. Although progress has been significant and is reflected in the number of women managers at the world's largest companies and professional firms, it has been slow at the very top. Earlier Catalyst findings showed Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors and women corporate officers, on average, achieving higher financial performance than those with the lowest.

In Advancing Women Leaders: The Connection Between Women Board Directors and Women Corporate Officers, Catalyst analyzed the relationship between the percentage of women board directors that a Fortune 500 company had in 2001 and the percentage of women corporate officers the same company had in 2006. The analysis controlled for the effects of industry, revenue and the percentage of corporate officer positions held by women in 2000. These controls allowed for a more precise depiction of the effect women board directors have on women corporate officers.

Here's the good news. Results show a clear and positive correlation between the percentage of women board directors in the past and the percentage of women corporate officers in the future.


To illustrate the effect of women board directors on women corporate officers, consider the following example: At two companies (Company A and Company B), in 2001, women held 12 percent of corporate officer positions (this is the average of 359 companies analyzed, all of which were in the Fortune 500 from 2000 to 2001 and 2006). The companies are in the same industry and have the same Fortune rank. At Company A, however, 30 percent of the board seats are held by women, while Company B has no women board directors. The analysis showed that in 2006, Company A would have 45 percent more women corporate officers than Company B. In fact, women at Company A would hold 17.4 percent of corporate officer positions, while women at Company B would only hold 12 percent of the positions.

Source: Catalyst

The analysis also showed that, when ranked by percentage of women board directors in 2001, companies in the top 25 percent — the highest quartile — would have one-third (33%) more women corporate officers in 2006 than companies in the lowest quartile in 2001.

Finally, the analysis revealed that companies with two or more women board directors in 2001 would have more than a quarter (28%) women corporate officers in 2006 than companies with one woman board director in 2001.

Significantly, women board directors had a greater impact on the growth of women corporate officers in line positions — those making or selling the company's products — than on the growth of women corporate officers in staff positions. This is critical because line experience is a de facto requirement for CEO and other top leadership appointments.

Put simply, women board directors are predictors of women corporate officers. Moral of the study? A gender-diverse board promotes continued success for women and for business.

Rate this article 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor).
Send your responses here.

The Partnering Sponsor for this report was The Chubb Corporation; Contributing Sponsors were Citizens Communications and IBM Corporation.

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. You may download free copies of this and other Catalyst reports at www.catalyst.org. You may also sign up to receive our monthly email updates at news@catalyst.org.