UC Davis alumna Linda Vilaikeo, a divisional president with bebe stores inc. announces the UC Davis study findings at a press conference at the company’s Brisbane headquarters.Study author Amanda Kimball

Glass Ceiling May Take a Century to Crack

Faculty Focus • by Karen Nikos and Tim Akin

The proportion of women who lead California’s largest public companies is growing at such a slow pace that it will take more than a century for women business leaders to achieve parity with men, according to the Graduate School of Management’s seventh annual “UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders.”

The study found that women still occupy fewer than one in 10 of the top posts at the 400 largest public companies headquartered in California—a rate that has improved by just 0.2 percent annually.

And more than a third of California’s corporate giants—including household names like Adobe Systems Inc., Hansen Natural Corp. and Skechers USA Inc.—had no women among their highest-paid executives or board directors. Together, the companies in the study represent nearly $3 trillion in shareholder value.

“Having more women involved at the highest levels of business management and corporate governance brings greater diversity of thinking styles, industry knowledge, educational background and career experience, yet we continue to find disappointingly small proportions of women in leadership roles in what is widely regarded as a progressive, trend-setting state,” said Dean Steven Currall.

“There are plenty of qualified women to hire and promote, but the vast majority of the 400 largest public companies in the state don’t seem to recognize that. Our mission is to change that,” Currall said.

The survey is the only one of its kind to focus on gender equity in the boardrooms and executive suites of corporate California. 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 June 2011. The 400 companies were selected based on market capitalization.

Top Companies Praised for Leadership

For the second year in a row, the company with the best gender balance was Brisbane-based bebe stores inc. The women’s apparel company reported that women held 40 percent of the highest-paid executive and board director seats. The 2011 study was released at a news conference on December 7 at bebe stores’ headquarters, prompting widespread coverage on TV and radio, and in major newspapers, social media and web news portals.

Southern California–based Wet Seal Inc., also a women’s apparel company, showed a dramatic rise in its ranking. Last year, the company had only one woman among its highest-paid executives and board directors. This year, Wet Seal tied for second place, with women holding 36.4 percent of the top positions. In addition, Wet Seal was among the 13 public companies statewide with a woman CEO.

Orange County had the lowest overall percentage of women in top leadership positions of any county in the state. In an op-ed published December 9 in the Orange County Register, Currall and study author Amanda Kimball applauded Wet-Seal’s progress, urging other companies to follow its lead. “At a time when the American public has diminished trust in corporate leadership, and when closing the gender employment gap could give our economy a much-needed boost, the future of business depends on the ability of corporate leaders to chart a new course in favor of greater diversity, just as Wet Seal has done,” they wrote.

Male-dominated Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County, home to the high-tech hot bed of Silicon Valley, had the second-lowest percentage of women in top leadership positions. Semiconductor and software companies, most of which are located in Silicon Valley, continued to rank at the bottom, with women holding three percent, or fewer than one in 28, of the highest-paid executive positions.

Meanwhile, San Francisco and San Mateo counties had the highest percentage of women in top leadership positions. Overall, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to 208 of the companies surveyed, while 178 are based in Southern California.

UC Davis partners on the study with Watermark, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based nonprofit that offers programs for executive women, including board readiness training.

“Women are the next global economy. They make up a majority of the workforce in nine of the 10 occupations that will add the most jobs in the next eight years,” said Marilyn Nagel, CEO of Watermark. “Despite this, women still represent a significant minority on boards. There are many qualified women capable of serving on boards who are not currently getting those roles.”


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