Despite regular media buzz around female CEOs, only eight of the top 100 U.S. companies have women in the top seat—and the world's top companies have a very long way to go in achieving gender balance on executive committees, according to a study just released by gender consultancy firm 20-First.
The annual Gender Balance Score Card looks at the top 300 companies across Europe, Asia, and the U.S., and focuses not on corporate boards, whose male-female ratios are improving, but executive committees—those who have worked their way to the top and have responsibility for results.
The study finds that of the 1,164 executive committee members of America's Top 100 companies, 83% are men—and two-thirds of the 17% who are women are in staff or support positions like HR, communications, or legal, rather than in operational roles. Europe and Asia's ratios are even more unbalanced, at 89% to 11% and 96% to 4%, respectively.
The study also identifies which companies fall along six phases of the "gender journey." According to the study, these phases are:
Asleep—Companies that are still, in 2014, run by an exclusively male team.
Token—Companies with less than 15% of both genders on the Executive Team. In this category, the individual(s) is in a staff or support function rather than a line or operational role.
Starting Smart—Firms that also have less than 15% of both genders in the mix, but they are in a central core or operational role, sometimes even CEO.
Progressing—Companies that have reached a minimum of between 15% and 24% of both genders on their top team.
Critical Mass—Companies that have achieved a balance of at least 25% of both genders, but less than 40%.
Balanced—Companies with a minimum 40% of both genders on the Executive Team.
Only two top U.S. companies—Target and TIAA-CREF—achieve the Balanced category, along with only one top European company, Lufthansa. The 13 U.S. companies in the Asleep category include Exxon, Comcast, Google, and Costco—the last of which is interestingly known for its unusually progressive policies in support of employees.
The Gender Balance Scorecard emphasizes that companies that have achieved Critical Mass or become Balanced have done so because the leadership has proactively adapted the corporate culture. Writes 20-First CEO Avivah Wittenberg-Cox in the Harvard Business Review, achieving true gender balance on executive teams enables companies "to reflect the reality of 21st century customers, leadership and talent, and gives companies the competitive edge to innovate and deliver value sustainably and globally."