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Women in the chemical industry 2017

Latest C&EN survey shows that women are slowly consolidating corporate gains

by Alexander H. Tullo
September 11, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 36

Illustration of several women in professional clothing.
Credit: Shutterstock

Although chemical companies are far from having equal representation of women and men in leadership roles, C&EN’s 2017 survey of women in industry shows some gains in boardrooms and executive suites over the past year.

The survey finds an increase in the number of women serving as directors on corporate boards. Women hold a record 18.6% of seats on the boards of directors at the 42 U.S. companies with major chemical businesses included in the survey. Last year, that figure was 17.1%.

On the other hand, the number of women serving as top executives in the chemical industry ebbed. Of the 386 people serving as executive officers at the 42 companies, 13.7% are women. Last year, women held 14.3% of those roles.

That said, 2016 was a record year for women serving as top executives, and 2017 was still a high mark for the past decade.

Up and down

Bar graphs showing the increasing proportion of women serving as executive officers and on chemical company boards over the past decade.

The percentage of women on boards crept up again in 2017, but their representation as executive officers fell after four years of gains.

Top jobs


More executive women are employed in business roles than any other type of job.

Note: Data based on firms listed on pages 17 and 18.
Pie charts that show the roles women play in top management at chemical firms.

More executive women are employed in business roles than any other type of job.

Note: Data based on firms listed on pages 17 and 18.

Moreover, 2017 saw a bump in the number of women in business leadership roles at chemical companies.These are positions such as running divisions that carry profit and loss responsibility. In 2016 and 2015, 28% of the female executives held business responsibility roles. This year, 32% did. For the first time, the proportion of women in business roles exceeded that of women heading human resources.

And women have the very top job at a growing number of firms. Erin N. Kane is the chief executive officer of AdvanSix, the new nylon spin-off from Honeywell. Kim Ann Mink is at the helm of phosphorus chemicals maker Innophos. Vicki A. Hollub leads the oil company and vinyls maker Occidental Petroleum. And Anne P. Noonan is CEO of the specialty chemical firm Omnova.

Women at European firms

Women made modest gains at European chemical companies this year.

Air Liquide 12 5 12 1
AkzoNobel 8 3 7 1
Arkema 13 5 8 1
BASF 12 3 8 1
Bayer 22 5 7 1
DSM 7 3 4 1
Evonik Industries 20 7 5 1
Johnson Matthey 6 2 3 1
Lanxess 12 2 4 0
Linde 12 3 4 0
Solvay 15 5 5 0
Syngenta 8 3 7 1
Yara 8 3 12 3
TOTAL 155 49 86 11

2016 2017
Women directors per company 3.4 3.8
Women directors as % of board positions 28.6 31.6
Women execs per company 0.7 0.8
Women execs as % of positions 10.0 12.8

Source: Company documents


Last year, the only female CEO captured in the survey was Mink.

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

C&EN also surveys the largest public European chemical firms. Of these 13 companies’ supervisory directors—akin to U.S. board directors—31.6%are women, an increase from 28.6% a year ago. Only 12.8% of the top business managers are women, though that figure is higher than the 10.0% scored a year ago.

C&EN’s survey is modeled after surveys done by Catalyst, a New York City organization that advocates for greater representation of women and minorities in the corporate world. Catalyst’s survey found women filled 19.9% of the board seats at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies.

A Catalyst survey of top earners, a somewhat narrower category of executive than the one C&EN assesses, found 9.5% of these positions at S&P 500 firms were held by women.

Looking back, it’s clear that women have made significant strides in the chemical industry.A decade ago, C&EN’s survey found that only 12.0% of chemical company directors and 9.2% of executive officers were women.

In the business world broadly, the issue is also getting a lot more attention than it used to. The day before International Women’s Day in March, “Fearless Girl,” a bronze sculpture of a girl with her hands defiantly on her hips, was placed in opposition to the famous “Charging Bull” statue on Manhattan’s Broadway, just a few blocks from Wall Street.

The message wasn’t anticapitalist. The company that sponsored the installation, State Street Global Advisors, is an investment firm with $2.5 trillion under management. “Our goal was to raise awareness and drive a conversation around the need to improve gender diversity in corporate leadership roles,” the State Street says.

For the company, the statue isn’t about publicity; it’s about business. State Street offers an index fund that preferentially invests in companies employing women in top roles. The firm’s executives contend that companies with greater representation of women are likely to perform better than companies without.

To back its case, it cites a 2015 McKinsey & Co. report that found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to outperform industry average returns than companies in the bottom quartile. Similarly, the companies with the greatest levels of ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to best the industry average than companies that lagged.

McKinsey acknowledges that correlation doesn’t necessarilyimply causation. In other words, hiring a more diverse workforce isn’t a surefire way to fatten profits. But the consulting firm has a hypothesis about why there is a correlation.

“More diverse companies are better able to win top talent, and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making,” leading to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns, it says.

Slowly, chemical companies seem to be acknowledging the same thing.

Mixed results

The number of women on U.S. chemical company boards is up, but the proportion of women in executive roles is down.


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