Chicago Network Census Reveals Some Gains for Women


The number of women on boards is up, but the percentage of women executive officers is down, according to The Chicago Network‘s 14th annual Census Report, release Thursday, December 1. The yearly report measures the progress of women in the boardrooms, executive suites and as top earners in Chicago’s 50 largest publicly reporting companies. The verdict? A little good, a little bad, a few plateaus. The numbers paint a revealing picture of the workplace for women in Chicago. A few highlights:

Among boards of directors:

• The percentage of women directors reached its highest level ever, 15.6 percent, up from 15.3 percent in 2010. Eighty-seven women are on boards, the highest absolute number since the census’ inception.

• The percentage of new women directors out of all new directors in 2011 has decreased to 20 percent, compared to 29.5 percent in 2010.

• Out of the 50 companies, the majority (29 companies) have 11-25 percent representation of women on their boards of directors. Only eight companies have more than 25 percent representation (one more than last year), while four companies have no women directors (1 less than last year). These four companies have 38 directors total.

In the c-suite:

Women executive officers decreased by 0.9 percent, landing at 14.9 percent in 2011. In fact, while the number of women executive officers decreased by four (from 80 last year to 76 in 2011), the number of total executive officers increased for the first time since 2003 (from 505 to 511).

14.8 percent of all new executive officers were women, compared to 13.3 percent last year.

• Among the 50 companies, 11-25 percent again proves to be the sweet spot: 25 companies fall into this range for percentage of female executive officers. Five companies (down by 2 from 2010) had greater than 25 percent, and 9 companies had zero female executive officers. Those 9 companies have 69 executives amongst them.

• Just 6 percent of CEO positions are held by women: Ilene Gordon of Corn Products International, Inc., Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods Inc., and Mary Dillon of U.S. Cellular Corp. (Anne Pramaggiore was named CEO of Commonwealth Edison during the current fiscal year.)

Among top earners:

• The percentage of women who were top earners at their company increased from 7.7 percent to 9.1 percent.

• The majority of companies (31) have no women top earners. These 31 companies have 148 top earners total. Three companies can claim more than 25 percent of their top earners as women.

The Chicago Network Census has also tracked the performance of women of color for the last 7 years. Among women of color:

• Across all 50 companies, 13.5 percent of women executive officers are women of color, up from 13.2 percent in 2010. Among female directors, 20.5 percent of women directors are women of color.

These numbers are interesting for a number of reasons. One, although many numbers have hit new highs, they are still quite low. As Erin McInerney, chair of The Chicago Network, notes, “We are delighted that about 15 percent of directors are women, although we note that leading practice is closer to 40 percent.”

And while in the 14 years that The Chicago Network has been tracking these numbers the number of companies with no women executive officers has decreased 55 percent and the number of women executive officers has increased 61.7 percent, the number of companies with no women directors has dropped by only three.

In a time of economic downturn, and in a workplace environment with rapidly changing and increasingly global needs, women’s success in leadership roles is imperative to U.S. economic success. At the recent Womenetics Global Women’s Initiative: The Ripple Effect summit in Chicago, Feminomics President Astrid Pregel noted that if the wage gap closed today, the U.S. economy would grow by 9 percent. According to a Catalyst survey, she added, a saturation of women on companies’ boards of directors was equated to better profits: 28 percent higher profits, to be exact. “Do this [hire more women] because it makes a difference in the bottom line,” she noted at the summit. “You need us on these boards if you’re going to make it to the next stage, and you’re not going to make it without us.”

And it’s clear, both statistically and anecdotally, that companies with more women in leadership roles make better decisions. Over 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions today are made by women; if companies want their products to be successful sellers, they need women involved in research, development and marketing. Consider the recent controversy over the inability of Siri, the artificial intelligence assistant for Apple’s iPhone 4s, to locate birth control or abortion providers, or services for a person who had recently been raped. Siri can, however, locate Viagra, strippers, escorts and recommend where to bury a body. The knowledge gap is less likely a result of a built-in conservative bias, and more likely the result of who dominates the tech world: young, white men.

Unfortunately, at our current rate of progress, it will be many decades before equality in both pay and workplace leadership roles are reached. Initiatives like The Chicago Network’s Women on Boards aim to hasten these numbers along, but much remains to be done. And women’s economic and workplace equality needs to be seen as a U.S. issue, not a “woman’s issue.” As The Honorable Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, noted via video at the Womenetics summit, “Women’s equality is an economic issue, as well as a human rights issue.”

View the full Chicago Network Census 2011 to see more findings, as well as see where the 50 individual companies rank in performance.




About Cassandra A. Gaddo

Cassandra A. Gaddo is managing director of Step Up Women's Network in Chicago. A passionate advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women and girls, she is also a board member of Rape Victim Advocates, and a Young Professionals Ambassador for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She writes and speaks about local, national and international women's issues, including in her blog, "Twice As Well."