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Women's business influence goes into a stall

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Aug. 17--Women slowly are making inroads on corporate boards and in top jobs nationwide and in St. Louis, according to a national survey and data on St. Louis companies.

But their numbers are sparse and it could take 50 or more years for women to reach parity with men on boards, according to an index compiled for the Committee of 200, an organization of women business owners and corporate boards.

Nationwide, the rate of growth slowed last year for women joining Fortune 500 boards, those taking top jobs and those gaining access to venture capital, the index showed. The index, released Tuesday, also showed that women's clout, or influence on business, has stalled, although it had been gaining strength slowly over the last four years.

"If companies want to stay competitive, they need to find ways to position more women in line executive roles, and yet the index shows that progress in this area has slowed," said Jo Marie Dancik, regional managing partner of Ernst & Young and treasurer of the Committee of 200. Line jobs generally are operations positions or those that include responsibility for a company or division's profit or loss. By contrast, staff jobs are support roles like human resources, legal or finance.

The index uses corporate board and executive statistics compiled by Catalyst Inc., an organization that monitors women's progress in corporate America. That group found that women held 13.6 percent of Fortune 500 board seats in 2003 and represented 15.7 percent of corporate officers in 2002. Catalyst will update its study this fall.

In St. Louis, the number of women on boards and in top jobs grew slightly last year, but their representation still lags the nation. The Post-Dispatch compiles information on executives and directors from proxy statements filed by public companies in St. Louis, as well as from press releases and other documents.

In St. Louis, women hold 40 of the 497 seats on 56 boards of directors for public companies, according to a database compiled by the Post-Dispatch from documents filed over the last year. That means that fewer than one in 10 directors here is a woman. Four women hold seats on more than one board. Mary Ann Van Lokeren, the chief executive of Krey Distributing Co., sits on three boards, for example.

The number of women on boards here last year grew from 36 the previous year, despite the absence of several boards that included women directors. Pulitzer Inc., which had three women on its board, was purchased by Lee Enterprises Inc. in June and was removed from the Post-Dispatch database.

Women held 14 -- fewer than 5 percent -- of the 283 executive positions listed in St. Louis companies' proxies this year, up from a dozen listed last year. Maxine Clark, who heads Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc., is the only woman to head a publicly traded company in St. Louis. Two women hold the title of president, Diane M. Sullivan of Brown Shoe Co. and Michele A. Bergerac of Bakers Footwear Group Inc.

Minorities fared worse than women in St. Louis, holding just 24 board seats and six executive positions at St. Louis companies. Seventeen of the directors listed in company proxies over the last year were African-American, four were Hispanic and three were Asian. The number of board seats held by minorities increased by one. But Paul L. Miller, a business consultant who sat on two boards, has died since the proxies were issued.

The Committee of 200 index is a weighted average of 10 benchmarks of business-world influence: business ownership, board seats and corporate officer jobs at Fortune 500 companies, size of women-run businesses, venture capital funding, line-to-staff-position ratio, gender-wage gap, enrollment in master's of business administration programs at top business schools, keynote speaking platforms and major fundraising positions. The committee has been publishing its index for four years.

The index showed gains by women in board representation and in line jobs from 2004 to 2005, although the growth slowed from previous years. At the 3 percent growth rate for women in executive ranks, the index shows that it would take 20 years for women to reach parity with men. Wages aren't likely to be comparable until 2018.


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