Link My iMpact  
Link Strategic Positioning Tool Kit  
To Executive Education
To Kresge Library

Glass Ceiling Slowly Cracking, But Not Fast Enough

10/9/2007 --

New Ross School study finds few women executive officers, little progress in the board room, and women of color nearly absent at the top.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Women, especially those of color, are still a widely untapped resource at the executive level and in board rooms at Michigan's largest public companies, according to a study by the Ross School of Business that was commissioned by Inforum, a women's business alliance.

Conducted by Ross School Professor Kathleen Sutcliffe, associate dean for faculty development and research, and research associate Sinia Whatmore, the biennial study looks at the presence of women leaders at the highest levels of the 100 largest publicly held corporations headquartered in the state (the Michigan Index 100).

"Change is occurring slowly, but the lack of women at the executive level and in the board room continues to be discouraging," says Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum. "There is still no female CEO of an Index 100 company and 41 of Michigan's top 100 public companies still do not have any women directors."

This, she says, is in spite of the fact that women occupy half of the managerial and professional positions in Michigan's civilian labor force, influence more than 90 percent of household purchasing decisions and have control over $14 trillion in wealth.

"However, the corporate pipeline that is increasingly female—starting with college enrollments and graduates and culminating in the senior officer ranks—gives hope that more women may eventually progress to upper level positions," Barclay says.

According to the study, known as the Michigan Women's Leadership Index, 55 of the state's largest public companies have at least one woman executive officer. But of the 757 senior positions in Michigan Index companies, women hold only 88 (less than 12 percent) of them.

The percentage of women directors of the 100 Index companies has remained virtually unchanged for four years. Currently, women occupy about 10 percent of board seats. Among those women on boards, seven hold various committee chair positions and only one serves as chairperson of the board. When it comes to the presence of women directors and executive officers, 34 companies have at least one of each, while 20 have neither.

Women of color are nearly absent at the top of Michigan's 100 largest public companies¿only four hold executive positions and only nine occupy a director's seat. There are no women of color on any Michigan Fortune 500 company board. Nationally, women of color occupied about 3 percent of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies last year.

This year, more of Michigan's Index 100 companies have women among their top-five earners. Thirty-one percent have one or more women among their highest-paid executives, an increase from 24 percent in 2003 and 21 percent in 2005. However, the percentage of all top-five earners is still in the single digits (7 percent), the same as 2003.

Nationally, Michigan's Fortune 500 companies are comparable to their peers in terms of the percentage of board seats held by women (about 14 percent), but lag in the percentage of executive positions held by women (12 percent Michigan, 16 percent nationally) and in the percentage of women as top-five earners (4 percent Michigan, 7 percent nationally).

In addition to individually scoring and ranking each company, the Women's Leadership Index also evaluates the presence of women executives and board members by sector. Of the eight sectors identified, only two—real estate and construction and financial services and insurance—have the highest average combined presence of women in the board room and the top-earning executives. The automotive sector again received the lowest overall score.

Women's enrollment and presence also have increased in college campuses across the nation. But there is a large gap between their graduation statistics and their presence at the top corporate levels. In the 2006-07 academic year, women earned 58 percent of bachelor's degrees and 61 percent of master's degrees.

"With a candidate pool that is increasingly female, well-educated and forward-looking, it makes good business sense to recognize and utilize the intellectual capacity of women in the work force," Barclay says. "Hopefully, this pipeline of talent for Michigan companies will not be lost."

Complete copies of the 2007 Women's Leadership Index Report are available at

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847