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Study examines female business leaders in state

By Julia Ann Easley on February 12, 2006 in University News

There is a woman sitting in only one of every 10 chairs at the boardroom tables and executive desks of California's 200 largest publicly traded companies, and that means a missed opportunity for business, according to a groundbreaking study that was to be released Thursday by the Graduate School of Management.

In the first study of its kind to take a critical look at the participation of women in corporate leadership in California, three researchers from the school found women hold only 10.2 percent of the combined board seats and highest-paid executive officer positions. Specifically, they occupy only 202, or 11.4 percent, of the 1,771 board seats and, at 8.2 percent, an even smaller proportion of the 1,006 executive positions.

"The 2005 UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders" was prepared by Nicole Woolsey Biggart, dean of the management school, and professors Kim Elsbach and Katrina Ellis. The school released the results at a Thursday gathering of business leaders and elected officials in downtown Sacramento.

Corporate accountability

Importantly, the report comes as corporate leadership is being held to a higher level of accountability, and the study's authors say greater representation of women makes good business sense.

"We believe that bringing more women into the boardroom and the executive ranks will lead to stronger relationships with customers and shareholders and result in more diverse and profitable businesses," the authors wrote.

State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, said that the study sets a new benchmark for advancing both women and California business itself. "This report lets the CEOs of the world know that women are business leaders in California — they are not only up to the task, they set the task," said the outspoken advocate for women's issues and women in business.

"A diversity of thought and experience in leadership is good business strategy," said Virginia Hinshaw, provost and executive vice chancellor at UC Davis. "We need to encourage companies to tap into all that women can bring to the table."

The study identified 25 companies that can serve as role models for more fully utilizing the talents and skills of women, and the management school recognized them with awards. With seven women in 14 board and executive positions considered by the study, Golden West Financial Corp. of Oakland, a holding company in the financial services sector, topped the list of companies that have more than 20 percent female directors and executive officers.

The researchers used Standard & Poor's data to identify the top 200 companies headquartered in California by net revenue for fiscal year-end reporting from June 2003 through May 2004. Then they compiled information about directors and the top five executives from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The study found 55 companies, or more than 25 percent of the top 200, have no female board members and no female executive officers. In the boardroom, 34 percent of the top 200 companies have no women, and nearly 38 percent have only one woman director.

In addition, nearly 68 percent of the companies have no women among their top five executives, and only 8 percent have two or more women in those positions. Women are chief executive officers of only six of the companies.

A comparison to similar studies for seven other states and cities showed California ranks second to Chicago in the percentage of board seats held by women and sixth in the percentage of female executives, ahead of only Florida and Michigan.

By industry and size

In conducting their census, the researchers found that industry sector makes a difference. For example, the health care sector — at 16.1 percent — has the highest percentage of female directors, and the financial sector ranks second with 15.6 percent. The semiconductor industry has the lowest percentage of female directors with 5.5 percent.

Retail has the highest percentage of women executive officers, at 15.1 percent, and health care follows at 14.8 percent. The consumer goods sector has no female executive officers.

Larger companies have a greater number and greater proportion of women board members than do smaller companies.

Good business

The authors said that having women well represented in corporate leadership is more than playing fair — it makes good business sense.

"California companies aren't taking advantage of the opportunities to use the talents and unique perspective of half of our population," Biggart said. "It's a missed opportunity."

Ellis, an assistant professor of finance, pointed to two recent studies that show businesses do better when women share in the key leadership positions. In a 2004 study, Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working to advance women in business, found a connection between gender diversity and strong financial performance and good corporate governance. In other research, published in The Financial Review in 2003, three researchers from Oklahoma State University found that board diversity is related to higher shareholder value.

Biggart, a professor of organizational behavior who studies economic networks, said government reforms, including the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, are compelling businesses to include external directors who are independent and add to the diversity of perspectives on their boards. "It's critical and it's good policy," she said. "Business is just too important an institution."

Leading the way

The researchers say the study will be conducted annually to measure how women's roles in corporate governance and executive leadership change over time.

Elsbach is a professor who studies leadership and organizational behavior and is director of executive education for the management school. She said the top 25 companies offer examples to follow for including women in leadership. "The good news is that we have some role models for what a company can do in attracting and mentoring women in leadership," she said.

More information

The complete report is available at

Media contact(s)

Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248, 530-219-4545 cell,