Watermark Seeks to Overturn Underrepresentation of Women in Business Leadership Positions With Board Access Program


 Watermark, a non-profit community of executive women, and UC Davis Graduate School of Management, today unveiled results from the seventh annual census of women leaders report, revealing that women hold a perilously small share -- only 9.7 percent -- of board seats and highest-paid executive positions in California's 400 largest public companies. While this data is disheartening, it is equally puzzling, as industry research shows a correlation between women in leadership positions and business success. With this conundrum in mind, Watermark Institute Board Access™ program provides a breadth of services that equip women with the tools needed to secure their place in the boardroom.
"Every year, this study delivers eye-opening results that spur us on to fight for equal representation in the boardroom and executive-level positions," said Marilyn Nagel, CEO of Watermark. "Reasons for underrepresentation of the female demographic in these roles is puzzling, especially given the industry statistics proving success among female-led businesses. Watermark is committed to correcting this oversight, and our Board Access program is a great start in this endeavor."
Recent industry research has made a strong business case for increasing the number of women in executive positions and on corporate boards, linking companies with female representation in top positions with better overall business performance. In fact, gender-diverse boards boast a 53 percent higher return on equity, as well as stronger stock market growth(1), as compared with companies that have mostly male representation in top positions. The reasons for such exceptional numbers in female-led companies are based on some recent statistics: Women make 85 percent of household purchasing decisions, and they hold 51.5 percent of all management and professional positions and 51 percent of the nation's private wealth. Furthermore, a 2010 Booz Allen study(2) dubs women "The Third Billion," inferring they are the next global economy.
Despite this, the "UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders: A Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers," which tracks the presence of women executives in C-level and board director positions at the largest 400 publicly held companies headquartered in California, paints a very different picture. For example, according to the study, women comprise only 9.2 percent of the 1,925 highest-paid executives in these 400 companies. Unfortunately, these results have not changed much in the report's seven-year history, underscoring an urgency to remedy the current standing of women in business leadership roles, and serving as a call to action in the coming year, cheered on by the survey's impressive list of marquee-name companies that boast the largest percentage of women among board directors and the top five highest-paid executives in each company. Among them is bebe stores, inc. (ranked No. 1 on the list for two years straight, with 40 percent of these positions he ld by women) and Wet Seal, Inc., which made a meteoric rise to tie for No. 2 from No. 400 in 2010, with women holding 36.4 percent of director and highest-paid executive positions. (Coincidentally, Wet Seal, Inc. announced a female CEO in January 2011 and enjoyed steady growth all year, including a 3.9 percent increase in third-quarter net sales over the prior year period, according to a recent Zacks Equity Research blog.(3))
The study indicates that while high-technology firms tend to have few women in leadership roles, several technology companies are exemplary role models. San Francisco-based Advent Software is tied for the No. 2 spot on the list with 36.4 percent of its leadership positions held by women (including CEO Stephanie DiMarco); and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. is ranked No. 6 on the list, with 35.3 percent of its leadership positions held by women. Among companies that are addressing the importance of leveraging diversity in the boardroom is technology solution provider Intuit.
"The workforce boasts a pool of talented women, and having a gender-diverse executive suite and board in place helps us attract that talent," said Bill Campbell, chairman of Intuit. "Potential candidates can see themakeup of our team and how it maps back to Intuit's culture of celebrating diversity. Simply put, we consider gender diversity at top levels a necessity for hiring and keeping great talent." (To hear Bill speak with Watermark on why women in leadership matters, see this video.)
The UC Davis study showed these additional key findings:
  • Women hold 10 percent of the 3,224 board seats in the 400 companies.
  • More than one-third (136) of the 400 companies have no women among their board directors and highest-paid executives.
  • None of the top 400 companies has either a gender-balanced board or executive management team.
  • Only 13 (3.3 percent) of the 400 companies have a woman serving as CEO.
Watermark Institute Board Access Program Works to Change the NumbersIn an effort to turn these numbers around, and thereby help companies improve their profit margins, Watermark created the Watermark Institute Board Access™ program. The program is designed to assist women in advancing their presence in business management, C-level offices and on boards. Candidates complete the program in three phases: assessment and coaching, board simulation and additional readiness resources, and critical connections, which all provide the candidate with the tools required to secure business leadership positions.
Since the program's inception last year, 25 percent of the first class has obtained board seats. The first group will complete the program this March.
Watermark will participate in a discussion on the study's findings in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, December 7, 2011. For more details or to register, please visit http://www.wearewatermark.org/events/.
For more information about the Watermark Institute Board Access™ Program, please visitwww.wearewatermark.org. To download a full copy of the UC Davis study, including industry-by-industry and county-by-county statistics, visit www.gsm.ucdavis.edu/census.