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Women In Industry

Women have made solid gains in the upper reaches of the chemical industry

by Alexander H. Tullo
June 16, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 24

View Interactive Table: Women In Industry

Once again, C&EN’s annual survey of corporate boards and top executives reveals that women have made substantial gains in the upper ranks of major U.S. chemical companies. And for another year, the chemical industry has gained ground on the larger business world as well.

Finance accounts for almost one-third of executive jobs. NOTE: Data are based on the companies listed on page 19.
A pie chart showing the distribution of roles for women chemical executives in 2014.
Finance accounts for almost one-third of executive jobs. NOTE: Data are based on the companies listed on page 19.

The most solid advances have been on boards of directors. Of the 419 board seats at the 42 chemical firms included in the survey, 15.5% are held by women.

This figure handily beats last year’s mark of 14.5%, which itself was a gain of nearly one percentage point versus the year before. Additionally, the survey found 1.5 female directors per company, versus 1.4 in 2013.

Out of 400 executive officers at the 42 firms, 11.8% are women, an advance over the 11.1% found a year ago and the 9.9% registered in the 2012 survey.

Despite the improvements, the surveyed companies can muster only one woman chief executive officer, Ellen J. Kullman of DuPont.

But women continue to make inroads at the chief financial officer position, regarded at many firms as the second most important position. This year, six female CFOs serve in the chemical industry, up from four a year ago.

Last September, titanium dioxide maker Tronox appointed Katherine C. Harper as its new CFO. She had been the chief financial and business development officer for the diamonds and minerals group at the mining firm Rio Tinto.

Laura Thompson became the CFO of Goodyear Tire & Rubber in December 2013. She has been with the firm for 30 years, most recently as the finance head of Goodyear’s North American tire segment, which houses its chemical business.

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

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C&EN counts as executive officers those listed as such in a company’s 10-K. 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 approach ensures that C&EN’s survey will be a snapshot of executive officers and directors serving concurrently.

C&EN’s survey isn’t unique. It is modeled on an annual survey of Fortune 500 companies conducted by Catalyst, a New York City-based organization that advocates for the advancement of women in the corporate world.

In its most recent survey, compiled in December 2013, Catalyst found that 16.9% of the 5,446 people serving on Fortune 500 boards are women. The figure is only a marginal gain from the 16.6% Catalyst tallied the prior year.

The Catalyst survey found that 14.6% of the Fortune 500’s 4,823 executive officers are women. Again, this represents only a slight increase from the 14.3% it found in 2012.

The chemical industry’s performance on these fronts is still below that of the companies in the Fortune 500. However, the time may be coming to set aside the perception of the chemical industry as an old-line corporate backwater unable to attract, retain, and advance women.

BASF, the world’s largest chemical maker, is trying to make that day come sooner. Its U.S. arm, BASF Corp., was recently number 26 on DiversityInc.’s ranking of the top 50 companies for diversity. Some 1,215 companies applied for inclusion in the ranking by filling out a 300-question survey. BASF isn’t in C&EN’s survey because it is based in Germany and doesn’t file the relevant documents.

Patricia Rossman, BASF’s chief diversity officer, is proud to share some of BASF’s more productive practices. One is its diversity and inclusion council, comprised of leaders in business, manufacturing, and R&D, which meets quarterly to discuss recruitment and retention of talent.

Additionally, the firm makes vigorous use of metrics. “What we have said is that representation—making sure that we have the best talent from all backgrounds and all experiences—is really the outcome of positive practices in diversity and inclusion,” she says. Executives might look for instance at measures of dynamism—how often people in a division of BASF are changing jobs or moving from one BASF unit to another. Greater dynamism typically means positive results in terms of employee retention.

Making the chemical industry an engaging place to work, Rossman points out, is more important than ever, given that chemical companies, spurred largely by shale gas, are in stiff competition to hire, particularly those in the science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields. “We’re in quite the hunt for talent, and we need to make sure that the people who are strong in the STEM disciplines are very attracted to BASF,” she says.

View Interactive Table: Women In Industry



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