Getting to the head of the table.

Author:Sawyer, Melissa

Let's see whether we can accelerate the process with a succinct checklist of targeted actions.

Female directors finally have at least one seat at the board table at most U.S. public companies, but women still are not routinely making it to the head of the table in the boardroom or the C-suite.

The number of female directors at Fortune 500 companies has increased noticeably in the past decade to around 20%. Admittedly, the rate of change is slow. Among new directorships in 2015, fewer than 30% went to women. Complicating the issue are shareholder activists who, despite frequently advocating for board refreshment and corporate governance reforms, actually make boards even less gender-diverse. A recent study showed that, in the past five years, a group of the largest activist funds only nominated female directors 4% of the time. But the good news is that the numbers are inching up and the issue is drawing attention from key governance observers.

More concerning is the fact that the number of women in leadership roles on boards continues to lag. Of the 11 Fortune 50 companies that separate the roles of chair and CEO, none of them has a female chair, and only seven women serve as the lead independent director out of 39 Fortune 50 companies that have a lead director.

At the committee level, on their face, the numbers do not seem so dire: the percentage of female board committee chairs is close to being proportional to the number of female board members overall. However, those leadership positions are not evenly distributed. While women make up close to 28% of nominating/governance committee chairs, that percentage drops into the teens for audit chairs and falls below 13% for compensation committee chairs. Notably, female representation on board committees is both lower and increasing more slowly in the United States than in countries like France and the United Kingdom.

The numbers of women in the C-suite are even worse. Today, only about 5% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs and only 12% have female CFOs. In fact, less than 10% of "named executive officers" (or NEOs, who are a company's five most highly compensated employees) at Fortune 50 companies are women. Only half of the companies in the Fortune 50 currently have even one female NE0 and only a single company in the Fortune 50 has a majority of female NEOs.

When women do succeed in securing C-suite positions, their compensation does not put them into the NEO stratosphere. For example...

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