The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slow climb for America’s corporate women

New York, Nov. 19 (Reuters): Women are climbing the corporate ladder rung by rung, but the ascent to equality in the upper echelons of corporate America remains a daunting one, a new study shows.

Women hold 15.7 per cent of the corporate officer positions in the Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst, a non-profit research and advisory organisation. Catalyst loosely defines corporate officers as those who represent companies in making major decisions — the most visible executives often referred to as “corporate insiders.”

That 15.7 per cent — or 2,140 out of 13,673 corporate officer positions — is up from 12.5 per cent in 2000 and 8.7 per cent in 1995 when Catalyst first started counting. And the growth is continuing despite a downturn in the economy that has triggered a rash of layoffs across the nation.

“I am heartened to see the progress despite the gloomy economic outlook,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, which works to advance women in business.

Catalyst forecasts that true parity in those high-level positions could be reached by 2041 — if corporate America chugs along at the same slow, but steady, pace. Wellington, however, isn’t ready just yet to talk about whether women will see equality in upper management.

“I am focused on continued growth, when we are close enough to see 50-50 (split between women and men), then we can talk about it,” Wellington said.

Women call the shots at six of the Fortune 500 companies, an improvement over 2000 when just two women occupied the position of chief executive officer at corporate America’s biggest and best companies and an advance over 1995 when just one woman claimed the top spot.

The six companies, which span a broad range of industries, include energy merchant Mirant Corp., computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co., telecom gear maker Lucent Technologies Inc., office equipment provider Xerox Corp., beauty products company Avon Products Inc. and West Coast bank Golden West Financial Corp.

The Hewlett Packard chief executive officer is Carly Fiorina. The fat paychecks that come with the top corporate jobs remain as elusive as the high-level positions themselves. Women comprise just 5.2 per cent of top-earning corporate officers, compared with 4.1 per cent in 2000 and 1.2 per cent in 1995.

“The question is: ‘What kind of officers are they'’ There you are led to the difference between profit and loss responsibilities and staff support responsibility,” Wellington said.

“By and large, men are in profit and loss jobs, and, by and large, women are in support jobs.” Catalyst plans to do another study on the number of women occupying corporate officer positions in Fortune 500 companies in 2004.

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