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Women in Industry

August 9, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 32

Statistics contained in C&EN's annual survey of women serving on the boards and as executive officers of 42 U.S. publicly traded chemical companies usually inch stubbornly upward, registering at least some progress and providing hope that the balance of the sexes will someday not be so disproportional as it is today.

But not this year. Of the 419 board directors surveyed, 11.9% are women. This is down from the 2003 survey, where 12.8% of 437 directors were women. Moreover, the companies have an average of 1.2 women directors per company, a decrease from 1.3 a year ago.

The number of women executive officers employed at chemical companies, a measure of the representation of women in top management, is typically lower than the number of women serving on boards, and this year's survey is no different. Only 6.3% of the 416 executive officer positions surveyed belong to females. Last year, the figures were slightly higher, with 6.9% of 420 executive officer positions held by women. This year, there is an average of 0.6 women employed as executive officers per company. Last year, the average was 0.7.

The C&EN survey is culled from annual reports, 10-K filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission, and proxy statements to determine who has served as an executive officer or on the board of directors at the turn of the year.

This year, two companies have been dropped from the survey. International Specialty Products is excluded because it is no longer publicly traded. It has been replaced on the survey with polyester maker Wellman Inc. ChevronTexaco, which no longer has a chemical business of its own, has also been cut. In its place is Exxon Mobil Corp. Because of the changes, last year's figures have been restated.

The C&EN survey also showed no women serving as chief executive, operating, and financial officers. Similarly, there are no women listed as inside directors--directors also employed as top executives--at chemical companies.

ZEROS CREEP into other categories as well. Out of the 42 companies surveyed, 10 have no women serving on their boards at all. Some 24 companies have no women executive officers. Of the 26 women employed as executive officers, only four have responsibilities over entire business units.

The C&EN survey is modeled on surveys conducted by Catalyst, a nonprofit research group focusing on women in business. In its most recent biennial survey of Fortune 500 companies, issued last fall, Catalyst found that women occupy 13.6% of board seats, nearly 2% more than the C&EN survey finds for the chemical industry this year. In Catalyst's 2001 survey, women made up 12.4% of the directors at Fortune 500 companies.

In another survey of top management in 2002, Catalyst found that women held 15.7% of corporate officer positions, more than twice what the C&EN survey posts for executive officers. However, the C&EN survey only counts executive officers as listed in annual 10-K reports. Catalyst includes a broader sample that often encompasses a lower tier of management in which women are more concentrated.

Moreover, because the C&EN survey only analyzes major U.S. public chemical companies, it doesn't include women who hold prominent positions at other important firms. These women include Fran Keeth, president and chief executive officer of Shell Chemical LP, the U.S. arm of Shell Chemicals; Kathleen M. Bader, president and CEO of the Cargill Dow polylactic acid joint venture; and Stephanie A. Burns, who was appointed president and CEO of Dow Corning in December.

Burns is an activist on the issue of women in industry. In a speech she gave to an American Chemical Society Women Chemists Luncheon last September in New York City, she warned that the chemical industry is suffering from low representation of women in influential positions. "I'm concerned about building and sustaining our roles in chemistry--in industry, government, and academics," she said. "I'm concerned because innovation depends on diversity in all its forms. I'm concerned because, though the numbers show improvement, there is so much we can do to make the gains come faster."

Burns emphasized the special talents women bring to their jobs. "Of necessity," she said, "women are natural multitaskers, protectors, nurturers, leaders, and facilitators for win-win solutions."

Catalyst is beginning to study the influence women have on the performance of companies. Paulette R. Gerkovich, the group's senior director of research, points out that companies spend money on programs and policies meant to foster the advancement of women. Like any other financial outlay, she says, companies need to understand that such investments are economically justified. "You would be hard-pressed to find a company that would dedicate a lot of money and time without having a business rationale," she says.

In a study released earlier this year, Catalyst examined the financial performance of about 350 companies on the Fortune 500 list. It compared the companies with the most women serving as corporate officers to those with the fewest. The study found that companies with the highest average representation had a 35.1% greater return on equity and a 34.0% higher total return to shareholders than those with the lowest.

Catalyst admits that while the correlation is provocative, the data don't prove causation. Many factors outside of employment that influence financial performance aren't taken into account.

However, Gerkovich says Catalyst plans additional studies aimed at pinpointing the effect that women in upper management may have on financial performance. If a beneficial link is established, she hopes it will have far-reaching effects on women's representation in business.


More than half of companies in 2004 have no women executive officers


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