Women executives

How can more women land spots on company boards?

March 11, 2011: 10:54 AM ET

A dearth of women in top executive positions has contributed to the lack of women on corporate boards. But new pathways to the boardroom are opening.

By Stephenie Overman, contributor

It's a vicious cycle. A dearth of women in top executive positions has contributed to a lack of women on corporate boards.

Women make up an estimated 47% of the American workforce (as of 2009), but they accounted for just over 14% of executives and less than 16% of board seats at public companies in 2010, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization supporting women in business.

"Traditionally, boards have been made up of CEOs. Since most CEOs have been male, most boards have been male," says Libby Sartain, who serves on the boards of directors of Peet's Coffee and Tea, Inc. (PEET), and Manpower Inc. (MAN).

Aida M. Alvarez, a member of the board of directors of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) and Union Bank N.A., agrees.

"The case has to be made that companies need to diversify their talent. There's much value to diversifying a board, whether for gender purposes or other reasons," Alvarez says.  "It brings a different perspective."

But new pathways to the boardroom are opening. More

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