Volume 91 Issue 34 | pp. 18-19
Issue Date: August 26, 2013

Women In Industry

C&EN’s annual survey finds an influx of women at the top of chemical firms, but equality is far off
Department: Business | Collection: Women in Chemistry
Keywords: women, executives, directors, survey, women in industry
Human resources is the dominant role for female executives in the chemical industry. NOTE: Data are based on the companies listed on page 19.
This pie chart shows the breakdown of women executives in chemical firms.
Human resources is the dominant role for female executives in the chemical industry. NOTE: Data are based on the companies listed on page 19.

Women have made relatively big gains in the chemical business recently, with more women serving as directors and as corporate officers at chemical companies than just a year ago. But these gains revealed by C&EN’s annual survey of women in industry management do not mask the reality that women still have not achieved anything resembling equality.

Nonetheless, the increases in women in top positions revealed in the survey bring female representation in the chemical industry close to levels seen in the corporate world at large.

Of the 407 board of director positions that exist at 42 public chemical firms, 14.5% are held by women, according to the C&EN survey. Given the general stability of chemical firm boards from year to year, this can be considered a sharp increase from the 13.6% share C&EN found in 2012.

Similarly, the number of women serving as executive officers, also an area of little turnover, increased significantly since 2012. Of the 406 executive officers, 11.1% are women, up from 9.9% a year earlier.

To compile the annual survey, C&EN consults company annual reports as well as proxy statements and 10-K forms filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission by publicly traded U.S. companies that have significant chemical businesses.

Short biographies of directors are printed in company proxy statements. C&EN counts directors who were serving up to the time of the most recent annual meeting, not those who were voted in at the meeting. This ensures that the executive officers and the directors captured in the survey served simultaneously.

C&EN tries to survey the same 42 firms each year, but mergers and acquisitions make that impossible. When a company is acquired or taken private and no longer files the relevant SEC documents, C&EN replaces the company with a similar firm and then revises prior-year data accordingly so it can make two-year comparisons.

This year brought only two changes. Quaker Chemical replaces specialty chemical maker Solutia, which was purchased by Eastman Chemical. Axiall is the new name for Georgia Gulf, after its merger with PPG Industries’ chlor-alkali business.

To download a pdf of the table, visit http://cenm.ag/women2013.

The fact that the progress of women in the chemical industry tracks that of the larger corporate world is supported by data from Catalyst, a New York City-based organization dedicated to advancing women in the workplace. Catalyst conducts its own survey of women working at Fortune 500 companies using the same methodology as C&EN. In its most recent study, released in December 2012, Catalyst found that 16.6% of the 5,488 directors at Fortune 500 companies were women, up from 16.1% reported in 2011.

Catalyst also found that 14.3% of the 5,005 executive officers at Fortune 500 companies were women, a small increase from 14.1% the year before.

This year also saw strong advances for women on the topmost rungs of the chemical corporate ladder. Whereas Karyn F. Ovelmen of LyondellBasell Industries was the only female chief financial officer last year, four chemical firms now have women serving as CFOs.

During the past year, Occidental Petroleum appointed Cynthia L. Walker, who had been a managing director at Goldman Sachs, as CFO. Quaker Chemical named Margaret M. Loebl as its finance chief—she had consulted for Constellium, an aluminum products maker. And Sigma-Aldrich made Jan Bertsch, formerly controller and principal accounting officer at BorgWarner, its CFO.

There is still only one female chemical company chief executive officer, DuPont’s Ellen J. Kullman.

The responsibilities women have as executive officers at chemical firms have shifted over the past year. Perhaps owing to the new CFOs, the number of women serving in financial positions—as opposed to marketing or public relations—increased from 14% last year to 20% this year. Women with strategic responsibility for chemical businesses increased from 22% to 25%.

Human resources still represents the dominant role for women executives. Some 31% of the women serving as executive officers at chemical companies head human resources departments, down slightly from a year earlier.

Women’s representation in business ought to be improving. According to the National Science Foundation, industry can draw on a rich pipeline of women training to work in science and engineering. For the past 10 years, women have received about half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering, including social sciences and psychology. A science or engineering degree is a significant track into the chemical business.

Judith C. Giordan, former chief technology officer of International Flavors & Fragrances and cofounder of the Chemical Angel Network, which invests in early-stage start-up firms in the chemical sciences, says she has identified an obstacle for women in these fields and, for that matter, for scientists in general. She says they are too reserved in talking about their accomplishments and thus rarely gain the clout held by marketing and sales people.

“We are not the ones who will jump up and down,” Giordan tells C&EN. “We are trained to publish and give talks. That is how you get your point across.”

Giordan says women may be less inclined to take credit than male scientists because they are afraid of coming off as aggressive or are hesitant to speak unless they have data that back them up. “It is false modesty,” Giordan says. “If you have the solution to the problem and you don’t open your mouth about it, whose fault is it that the problem wasn’t solved?”

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