A FEW YEARS AGO, we examined the number of women serving as CEOs and board members for Fortune 500 companies during the 10-year period between 1987 and 1996. The number of women CEOs did not change during that period; only two women served in that role. However, the number of women serving as board members improved markedly, from 42.6% to 81.2% of Fortune 500 companies having women directors. For us, however, the more critical finding was the number of women serving as inside board members. This number declined from 11 in 1987 to 10 in 1996.
The issue, of course, was not the loss of one inside director; rather, the point was the startling lack of women's participation as insiders. At that time, the Fortune 500 would have had 1,500 or so corporate officers serving on their boards. Women, then, would have comprised an astonishingly low 0.6 of 1% of those board seats. Much more important, however, were the implications for the advancement of women into the executive suite. Specifically, women who have not enjoyed service as inside directors are very unlikely to become CEOs because they will not be considered as seasoned and able candidates, for two reasons.
First, the majority of successor CEOs are chosen from within the firm. In many ways this is exactly what effective succession planning is designed to accomplish. A successor--or several--is identified in advance of the incumbent's retirement, typically from among the executive ranks of the organization. Even when that is not the case, candidates for firms seeking an outside CEO will likely be drawn from the high-profile officers of other firms--CEOs, executive vice presidents, CFOs--who almost certainly will have served as inside directors. In this regard the issue for corporate women may be less a glass ceiling than a bottleneck. It is in this spirit that we re-examined the progress of women.
We should establish from the onset that there is compelling evidence of meaningful progress that women have made in recent years across multiple forums. Consider, for example, that:
* In terms of compensation, women serving in the top five executive positions have reached parity, being every bit as well paid as their male counterparts.
* Women now receive more than half of all bachelor's and master's degrees, half the law degrees, and about a third of all MBA degrees granted in the United States.
* Women now comprise 19.9% of licensed architects, and those who are partners or principals...