Good News

While the representation of women in corporate North America has been steadily increasing, women are still poorly represented in the upper echelons of the business world. So says Catalyst, a nonprofit advisory organization based in New York City that works to enable women to achieve their full professional potential.

Catalyst has been studying women corporate officers and top earners for the past five years, and the latest census, which looked at this group in Fortune 500 companies, revealed that in 1999 11.9 per cent of corporate officers were women, up from 8.7 per cent in 1995. And the number of companies with no women corporate officers decreased from 23 per cent to 21 per cent in the same period.

Yet even though women are making gains in the workplace, Catalyst found that overall women hold only 6.8 per cent of line jobs (those with profit-and-loss or direct client responsibility), while men hold 93.2 per cent.

Why the disparity? “We hear over and over again that the top barrier is stereotypes and preconceptions, not just about ability but also about commitment,” says Katherine Tobin, the director of research and advisory studies for Catalyst who directed the census. Tobin points out that once a woman is married, the assumption is often that she is going to start having children and decrease her commitment to the company. As a result, women more often find themselves steered toward staff positions such as human resources and PR.

“Staff jobs are not going to get you to the corner office,” Tobin says. “We encourage companies to take a look at where their women are and then open up some of the walls so that they can move beyond functional [positions],” Tobin says.