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Study Says Women Blocked from Top Positions in Leading Global Firms - 2004-10-08

According to a new study, businesswomen continue to face obstacles at the highest levels of the world's top companies, even though women make up close to half of the global workforce.

According to the report, compiled by a private group called Corporate Women Directors International, women make up only about 10 percent of corporate directors in the world's 200 biggest companies. One quarter of those companies have no female directors at all.

Irene Natividad, co-chair of the group that performed the research, says 80 percent of the consumers in the United States are women, and in developing countries, 80 percent of small businesses are run by women. She says in this global economy, that kind of buying power and the ability to create both goods and jobs means women should have a larger share of the top posts in major corporations.

"What we want to do is to shed light on the global picture, the global status of women on boards, in the hopes that quantitative data will somehow lead to qualitative change," she said.

Japanese businesses fared the worst among the 21 countries listed in Fortune magazine's Global 200. In Japan, the world's second largest economy, less than one percent of women hold positions of authority, and there are only three women directors in all of its top 27 companies.

In contrast, the United States performed best. According to the report, women hold 17 percent of seats on the boards of the 78 leading American companies.

Larry Johnston heads the American food store chain, Albertson's, which the study ranked most favorable to women, with six women directors on its 10-member board. He says his company realizes that including women in top leadership makes good business sense.

"According to a recent study of Fortune 500 companies, those with a higher representation of women in senior management positions outperformed those with proportionately fewer women at the top," Larry Johnston. "This trend held true across a broad spectrum of industries and the numbers are significant: a difference of 35-percent return on equity and 34 percent on total return to shareholders."

Women business leaders acknowledge that some improvements are being made, and that major changes to the typically male-dominated business world will take time. Toni Rembe, a lawyer who sits on several corporate boards, says women in power are communicating with each other more and more.

"There is a lot of that going on among women on boards, calling each other to find out who would be a good candidate, talking to women who are senior officers in companies to see if there is someone they know who would be a good board member or perhaps if they would be interested in boards," said Toni Rembe. "So that network is growing."

Corporate leaders also say it helps if governments take steps to encourage the participation of women in private business. The study cites initiatives in Norway and Sweden that have led to significant increases in female board members.