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US Women Continue to Raise Corporate Glass Ceiling

In spite of an economic downturn in the United States, a new survey shows that women are continuing their climb to positions of power in corporate America.

The study is based on the Fortune 500, an annual listing of U.S. corporations with the largest revenues. Surveying 2001, it finds that nearly 16 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers are women, up from 12.5 percent in the previous year.

The survey was conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit research organization that focuses on women in the business world. Catalyst Vice-President Marcia Kropf says women are making headway against the so-called glass ceiling.

"The glass ceiling has moved up a level, if you will," she said. "If you look back to the 70s and 80s, women were moving into middle-management positions, and now what we see is many women in middle management positions. It's moving them up into the most senior and powerful positions."

Ms. Kropf says that, if current trends continue, women will hold almost one quarter of these top positions by the end of the decade. She says that businesses are changing not for social or ethical reasons, but because it is good business since women influence 70 to 80 percent of all consumer purchases.

Still, she says, women are far from fairly represented in the upper echelons of the corporate world. Today, women comprise half of the U.S. workforce, and 57 percent of U.S. college graduates are women. Yet they will have to wait until at least 2014 to occupy 50 percent of the top corporate positions.

"We have women who are doing extraordinary things, but women still haven't moved to the most senior positions," Ms. Kropf said. "Only six women are CEO's in the Fortune 500. Six out of 500. That is 1.2 percent."

The six CEO's include the heads of technology giants Hewlett-Packard and Xerox.

Ms. Kropf says things are significantly worse for minority women, who face what she calls a concrete ceiling. Only 163 of the nearly 14,000 corporate positions surveyed are occupied by minority women.