Report Shows Slow Gains For Women

October 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The progress of women in Michigan’s corporate board rooms and executive suites of public companies is slow but inching forward, according to a new study.

The 2007 Michigan Women’s Leadership Index study, by the Inforum Center for Leadership and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, named two local companies among eight “Most Valuable Players”: X-Rite Inc. and Wolverine World Wide.

The study reviewed the 100 largest publicly traded companies headquartered in Michigan. Using reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, researchers measured the presence of women on boards of directors, among each company’s five highest-paid officers and among all executive officers.

The report also analyzed the presence of women in board committee leadership roles and the presence of women of color in top posts, and reviewed women leaders in Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.

“Change is occurring slowly, but the lack of women at the executive level and in the board room continues to be discouraging,” said Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum and the Inforum Center for Leadership. Inforum is a business organization for women with 2,200 members in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Barclay will be in Grand Rapids Wednesday at the Amway Grand Plaza to discuss findings of Inforum’s third bi-annual Women’s Leadership Index report. Registration and networking begins at 4:45 p.m., with dinner and panel discussion slated for 5:30 p.m. Scheduled to join Barclay on the panel are Stan Smith, national director, Deloitte; Linda Forte, senior vice president, Comerica; and University of Michigan Ross School of Business Professor Kathleen Sutcliffe, who worked on the study. Cost is $40 for Inforum members and $55 for nonmembers. See www.informmichigan.org for more information.

X-Rite, earning its third citation as an MVP, was recognized for having one woman among top earners and executive officers: Executive Vice President and CFO Mary E. Chowning. X-Rite has no women directors.

Wolverine World Wide, making its first appearance as an MVP, has two women on its board of directors. The lone woman among the company’s top executives, Cheryl L. Johnson, resigned in August after less than two years as vice president of human resources. However, Johnson was included in the study, which had a cutoff date of July 20.

“The team with the best players wins, and we’re always looking for the best talent,” said Wolverine World Wide CFO Steve Lewis. “Wolverine doesn’t have a bias for women, but it certainly doesn’t have a bias against them. When you’re externally recruiting, you want them to be able to see there’s opportunity from all angles.”

Across the state, real estate/construction and financial services/insurance were the sectors with the highest percentages of women directors and executives. Automotive had the lowest.

Of 886 available board seats at the 100 biggest publicly held companies, the report found that women held 87 seats, or 9.8 percent. That’s a drop of four from 2005. Nine are women of color. One woman serves as a board chair: Grace Shearer, OAK Financial Corp.

Local companies noted for two or more women directors are: Herman Miller Inc., Mary Vermeer Andringa and Dorothy A. Terrell; Spartan Stores Inc., Elizabeth Nickels and M. Shan Atkins; Steelcase Inc., Elizabeth Valk Long, Cathy D. Ross and Kate Pew Wolters; Stryker Corp., Louise L. Francesconi and Ronda E. Stryker; and Wolverine World Wide, Brenda Lauderback and Shirley Peterson.

Of 490 executives who are among the five highest-paid in their companies, 35 are women; in 2005, there were 27. Thirty-one of the state’s 100 public companies had at least one woman among those ranks, up from 21 in 2005.

Of 757 executive positions as reported to the SEC, women hold 88. None of them are CEO. In 2007, four are women of color. Fifty-five of the 100 companies reported at least one female executive. Noted for having 22 percent female executive officers was Herman Miller Inc. of Zeeland, where Nickels is CFO among five top jobs.

The report concluded that the presence and advancement of women directors and executives occur independently.

“There seems to be more hope in increasing the number of women executives than board members — it is faster to get qualified women in the executive ranks and get them noticed by their own performance,” the report stated. “As women in these upper management positions become more visible and more networked, the candidate pool for women directors will broaden.”  

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