In California, ‘dismal picture’ for women CEOs

UC DAVIS (US) — Women fill fewer than 10 percent of the top executive jobs in the 400 largest companies headquartered in California.

The Graduate School of Management’s eighth annual UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders—a yearly benchmark for the Golden State’s lack of progress in promoting women business leaders—paints a dismal picture for women in leadership during fiscal year 2011-2012.

The survey, the only one of its kind to focus on gender equity in the boardrooms and executive suites of corporate California, reports that some of the best known among the top companies, or the California 400, have no women leaders.

This year, for the first time, the survey also looked at ethnicity among the 85 Fortune 1000 companies in California, and only one company in this subset of businesses had an ethnic woman as the CEO. Furthermore, only 13 had any ethnic women directors.

“To compete in today’s global marketplace, successful companies need leaders from a variety of backgrounds, skills, and experience to make critical strategic and operations decisions, but the lack of women in these California public companies is anything but forward-thinking,” says Steven C. Currall, dean of the Graduate School of Management. “There are many talented, highly qualified women for these top leadership positions, yet every year we see the same figures and little improvement.”

The survey featured one statistical bright spot: The percentage of women directors year-to-year jumped a half percent, the highest annual increase in four years. For the past few years, the figure climbed only 0.2 percent annually.

“This is a slight increase, but not nearly what we should be seeing,” Currall says. “We challenge the business community in California to improve on its past. Women, by far, make the most purchasing decisions in certain industries, for example, and they are nearly 50 percent of the US workforce. So, it’s vital that we have that diversity of thought and experience in the leadership of these companies. More and more research is showing that having more women in top management and on boards actually improves company performance.”

Among the key findings of the study:

  • There is only one woman for every nine men among directors and highest-paid executives.
  • Only 13 of the 400 largest companies have a woman CEO.
  • No company has an all-female (nor gender-balanced) board and management team.
  • Almost half (44.8 percent) of California’s companies have no women directors; 34 percent have only one woman director.
  • Among counties with at least 20 companies, San Francisco County has the greatest percentage of women directors (16 percent), and Orange County has the least (8.7 percent). Alameda County has the most highest-paid women executives in the study.
  • By industry, firms in the semiconductor and software industries and those located in the Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County) tended to include fewer women on the board and in highest-paid executive positions. Firms in the consumer goods sector had the highest average percentage of women directors and highest-paid executives.
  • Of the best-known companies in CaliforniaApple, Google, Intel, Cisco, Visa, eBay, DIRECTV, Yahoo!, and PG&Enone of their highest-paid executives at fiscal year-end were women.

The Silicon Valley companies—representing nearly half the shareholder value of the companies on the list—showed the worst record for percentage of women executives, consistent with past years of the study. Only 6.6 percent of their highest-paid executives are women.

The study looked at the five highest-paid executives for each company, also called “named executive officers,” as reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The study examined filing data available as of October 1, 2012. The 400 companies were selected based on market capitalization.

For figures on ethnicity, study authors used a database that tracks Fortune 1000 companies nationwide and other sources, including company websites and SEC filings.

The company with the best gender balance in this year’s survey was San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma, Inc. The home furnishings and cookware company reported that women held nearly 47 percent of their highest-paid executive and board director seats.

Williams-Sonoma was ranked ninth in last year’s study, with 31 percent of its executive and board member seats filled by women, and it has been in the top 25 companies in the list three years consecutively.

The highest ranking company two consecutive years previously, bebe stores inc., dropped to second place in the latest study while maintaining 40 percent women in its top positions.

UC Davis partnered with Watermark, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit that offers programs for executive women, to complete the study.

“Companies today know they need to increase innovation,” says Marilyn Nagel, CEO of Watermark. “They need talent on top that is tuned into customer needs. They need directors and executives who are strong, capable, qualified leaders in every sense.

“However, while so many are bemoaning the lack of these qualities in candidates for their top positions—they are overlooking the women right in front of them who can deliver all of these qualities in spades.”

Source: UC Davis

chat5 Comments


  1. Mash Ouf

    And with it’s 40% female leadership, the Bebe company has destroyed shareholder value to the tune of 60% this year. Their board of directors has some quite elderly women, which is a surprise given the company cater to a consumer much younger. The last CEO (a woman) left very abruptly (a career jump) and put the company into a tailspin going into holiday season. So when we cry for more women in leadership roles, let’s remember that they aren’t always best for the company, its employees, customers, or shareholders. Performance should be all that matters, not gender.

  2. Amanda Kimball

    Hello, this is the author of the UCDavis study. Thanks for this interesting comment. You raise a point that has been raised many times before, that women in business should be judged by performance. It seems to me that there are several problems with this approach.

    First, performance is not a level playing field. Studies show that when only one member of a minority group is included, that person exhibits poor performance. This phenomenon is due to the perception of being a mere token representative of the needs of the minority group, rather than a complex individual.

    Second, studies also show that women, more often than men, are given the CEO position when a company is already in trouble. Because there are so few women CEOs to begin with, the visibility of individual cases of failure are blown way out of proportion relative to a comparable situation involving a male CEO.

  3. Amanda Kimball

    Third, there is a tendency to extrapolate conclusions about performance incorrectly. For example, your argument is citing a sample with size N=1 to imply that women CEOs are not a good idea. Certainly the case you cite sounds like a poor CEO-company fit. Nevertheless, no one would claim that *every* woman CEO is perfect, but to look at *one* failure and take that as evidence that women as a whole should be reconsidered, is an example of a very commonly exhibited logical fallacy, and it is unfair to women.

    Finally, the overwhelming evidence actually points in the opposite direction. There is an indisputable correlation between corporate financial success and the presence of women on boards of directors and in executive positions. I have some data on this myself, and many reports I could cite if you’re interested. The fact is, if performance was all that mattered, we would actually see more qualified women in corporate leadership already.

  4. Sal

    Why suddenly do all womyn want to leave home? Their presence among men at work place is an unwanted trouble . Anyway … Dear womyn… No matter what, things will not change, men are men and womyn are women and this is the law of nature. Accept it or be extinct.

  5. Swift JJustice

    Amazing!!!!! Just look at women CEO performance (lucent and HP – two examples). What a joke! Put the most qualified person into the job and based on past performance throughout big business it will not be a woman. Save American Business and forget this glass ceiling crap!!!

We respect your privacy.