Top 50: Companies slow to expand ranks of female executives

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Pittsburgh women are showing minimal gains in local boardrooms and executive suites, according to the Post-Gazette's third-annual analysis of female power.

In 2007, despite filling 51 percent of the local work force, women held just 10.9 percent of the board seats and 11.1 percent of the executive spots inside the region's 51 publicly traded firms -- each up less than 1 percent as compared with 10.2 and 10.9 percent the year before. Thirteen companies, or 25 percent of the Post-Gazette's list, have neither one female as a board director nor as a top manager, up from 12 companies in 2006 and 2005.

Pittsburgh women are showing minimal gains in local boardrooms and executive suites, according to the Post-Gazette's third-annual analysis of female power.

One notable improvement on this year's list, however, is a doubling in the number of female CEOs -- from one to two. In addition to ESB Financial's Charlotte Zuschlag, there is now RTI International Metals boss Dawne Hickton, who is moving the 1,400-person titanium maker from Ohio to Pittsburgh's western suburbs.

But 24 local companies, or 47 percent of the Post-Gazette's list, still have zero women on their executive team, while 19 have no women on their boards, down from a total of 20 last year.

"Not only is that not representative of the social equity goals we all have for our community," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation, but "study after study shows it is not good business."

Recent surveys of the Fortune 500 by New York advocacy group Catalyst show companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperforming those with lower female representation in sales, return on equity and return on invested capital.

"By increasing women's representation on these boards," Ms. Arnet added, "we are going to help our region thrive economically."

Ms. Arnet has been trying to build support for a "zero no more" campaign since 2006, the goal being to put at least one woman on the board of every publicly traded company in the Pittsburgh area. During an initial phase, the effort did not attract the support it needed to get going.

But last year, she jump-started the conversation again with help from The Heinz Endowments and its ex-president, Maxwell King. Together, they convinced 25 people -- including Chatham College President Esther Barazzone, Republican fund-raiser Elsie Hillman and former Pittsburgh Cultural Trust president Carol Brown -- to sign a letter last month asking local CEOs for help in recruiting and recommending local women qualified enough to serve on corporate boards.

This coalition, dubbed the "Gender Equity Task Force," hopes to compile a list of potential candidates for any companies seeking board members. The group also can connect these companies to national groups such as Catalyst.

"The goal is to replace all those zeros on your data sheet with women of excellence," Ms. Arnet said.

Pittsburgh fares both better and worse on the gender parity issue when compared with larger cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, which also measure female participation year to year.

A 2007 study from The Chicago Network found women in that city holding 14.3 percent of the board seats, up from 13.8, and 13.8 percent of the executive positions, down from 14.6 percent the year before. In Philadelphia, according to The Forum of Executive Women, females at the 100 largest publicly traded companies held just 8.7 percent of the executive positions during 2006, virtually unchanged from the year before, and 10.41 of the board seats, up from 9.73 in 2005.

At that rate, according to the group's president, it will take nearly 50 years for female executives to achieve parity with their male colleagues and nearly 75 years to do the same with board seats.

And nationally, white men still occupy a "disproportionate share" of board seats, 82.9 percent, according to Catalyst's recent survey of Fortune 100 companies.

"We hope that more companies will realize what research shows," Catalyst president Ilene Lang said in January. "That diverse teams, well-managed, deliver better results -- including better financial performance."

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Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at or 412-263-1752.


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