A census study released yesterday offers this disheartening forecast: the current state of women execs in the Fortune 500 is so poor that it could be 40 years before corporate gender equality is achieved.
To be sure, the number of women in top positions in Fortune 500 companies has increased. But the average yearly increase has dropped sharply, and in 2005 there were only eight female CEOs. The study, conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit that researches women's career advancement, also found that 75 percent of Fortune 500s had only male top earners. The situation for women of color is even more dismal; they made up only "1.7 percent of corporate officer positions and represented only 1.0 percent of Fortune 500 top earners in 2005."
Ilene H. Lang, president of Catalyst, told Reuters that there are several obstacles facing women attempting to climb the corporate ladder, including tokenism, "gender-based stereotyping, exclusion from informal networks and a lack of role models."
And it's not just women who lose out when all the top jobs go to guys. Many top-earning companies are clueless about the benefits of gender parity, according to Lang. The most progressive companies -- those with the highest numbers of women corporate officers -- had "on average, a 35.1 percent higher return on equity and 34.0 percent higher total return to shareholders than those with the lowest percentages of women corporate officers," Lang said.
"Smart companies know that developing and retaining top talent yields solid results. Women have the education, expertise, experience, and ambition to advance to these top positions in much greater numbers," Lang said. "However, this census reveals that some companies have yet to understand the compelling business case for diversity and women's advancement or to take meaningful steps to develop and retain women leaders."
The only silver lining to this gloomy study is that it further foils the knucklehead argument that the feminist movement has nothing but abortion rights left to fight for.