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The glass ceiling remains in place

Women hold 10.6 % of leadership spots at the state's biggest public firms, a study shows.

November 19, 2009|Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Women have made little progress in breaking the glass ceiling at California's top publicly traded companies, according to a report scheduled to be released today.

Citing "a bleak picture of the progress of women in corporate leadership" over the last five years, the report said that women held just 10.6% of executive positions and board seats at the state's biggest companies this year, a slight decline over 2008.

The survey of California's 400 largest publicly traded companies by UC Davis and a women's advocacy and networking organization found that the number of women in top leadership positions had barely budged since the study began in 2005.

Steven C. Currall, dean of UC Davis' Graduate School of Management, said that though researchers are committed to impartiality when producing the report, "there is some disappointment that we haven't seen more of a change in the five years that we've done this study."

The reasons for the stagnation are complex, said Wendy Beecham, chief executive of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, which helped UC Davis produce the study.

Part of the problem, she said, is that women don't always have role models or mentors to help them advance in corporate careers.

Also, she said, people tend to hire those who are like themselves.

That means men might tend to hire men and women might tend to hire women.

"It's a mix of sociology, corporate culture and skill building," Beecham said.

In the six years that Arlene Morris has headed pharmaceutical developer Affymax Inc. of Palo Alto, the company has added several women in leadership positions.

In 2009, three women served on its board of directors, and the 145-employee firm has 10 female executives, Morris said.

The company didn't even make the survey's list of the top 25 companies for female executives last year; now it's in third place.

"It made my day to find out we were on that list," Morris said.

The company with the most women at the top makes cosmetics. At Bare Escentuals Inc., of San Francisco, half of the executives and board members are women.

Nara Bamcorp Inc., a Koreatown bank, has two women on its board of directors. Five of its six top executives are women.

Clothing retailer Bebe Stores Inc. of Brisbane, Calif., was ranked fourth for the highest number of female execs and board members this year, and fast-food chain Jack in the Box Inc. of San Diego came in fifth.

Of the companies surveyed, 15, or 3.8%, have female chief executives, up from 13 in 2008, the report said. Women hold 9.8% of the 3,252 board seats at the firms.

Almost half, 46.3%, of the companies have no female directors, and 30% had no female directors or top executives.

The survey defined executives as chief executive, financial, operating and information officers, and some presidents and vice presidents.

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nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com

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