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Study Confirms Women Are Still Undervalued

May 1, 1998
Related Topics: Compensation Design and Communication, Diversity
Catalyst, the New York-based national nonprofit research and advisory organization, last year published important research called "The 1997 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners," a report about the advancement of women in Corporate America. Catalyst’s first landmark study on this topic was published in 1996. The study researched corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies because they have responsibility for policy as well as legal power to compel an organization to follow certain guidelines. Information regarding corporate officers and top earners is public and can be compared.

The study was designed to establish a data-based benchmark to:

  • Provide an accurate measure of women’s progress as corporate officers and, specifically, top-earning officers
  • Begin tracking this information
  • Support or eliminate perceptions about women in large corporations.

Parity for women is lacking. The findings show that women made up 10.6 percent of Fortune 500 officers in 1997, an increase from 10 percent from the previous year. However, only 51 held the highest-ranking positions compared to 1,677 men (chairman, vice chairman, CEO, president, COO and executive vice president). In the top-10 companies with women corporate officers, the highest representation is in the services sector.

However, only 61 women (2.5 percent) of 2,458 were top earners. This is up from 47 women in the previous year. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have no women among their five most highly paid officers.

Only 20 percent of all women (compared to 41 percent of men corporate officers) have profit-and-loss or revenue-generating responsibility. These are the line jobs that offer valuable experience for upward mobility. In response to that finding, Catalyst President Sheila Wellington says: "There’s still a glass ceiling, but equally important, this census documents the existence of glass walls. These are the invisible barriers in the corporate culture itself that keep women from obtaining the jobs with line responsibility that lead to the executive suite."

Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, p. 82.

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