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New Survey Finds Women Advancing Slowly in US Corporate Ranks - 2003-09-30

A new survey says American women are not moving up in the corporate ranks because they lack high-level experience. The study shows cultural barriers in the male-dominated business world continue to influence the advancement of women.

Women comprise about half of all managerial positions in the United States, but the number of women at the most-senior levels of business is much lower. Only eight companies in the Fortune 500 list of top American businesses are led by female chief executive officers. Women hold less than 15 percent of top leadership positions, such as board director or corporate officer.

Catalyst, a Wall Street research firm that promotes the advancement of women in business, decided to find out why.

The group's first study was released in 1996. It found that many CEOs said the reason there were not more women in top leadership was because there were not enough women in what they call "the pipeline," or in those executive positions that lead directly to senior level management.

These days, the number of women at the top is growing, but slowly. Paulette Gerkovich, who led the research on the newest study, said women still are not making huge strides, but it is not because of the so-called pipeline. "What CEOs and women are telling us now is that the number one reason preventing more women from getting into senior levels of leadership is a lack of significant general management and line experience," she said.

The survey reflects the responses of 700 women executives in the Fortune 1,000 index of American businesses and more than 100 male chief executive officers.

Forty-seven percent of women cite lack of significant general management or profit-and-loss experience as a barrier to advancement. The women also say not having access to a mentor is a significant obstacle.

Compared to the 1996 results, women say some things have improved, including men's ability to work with women. Overall, 80 percent of women in management are satisfied with their positions.

But researcher Gerkovich said she views the findings with tempered optimism. "There are still a lot of factors related to culture and work environment, like being excluded from informal networks," she said. "Like having stereotypes and preconceptions about their roles and abilities that are keeping them out of certain types of positions or from getting those types of experience that will get them into those positions."

Catalyst recommends that companies make stronger commitments to advance women managers, and the group advises women to develop expertise in specific areas.

The group's next report, which should be out next year, will ask senior level men about women's advancement in the workplace, and compare the men's responses with the women's answers.