By Melissa Harris
This is what stagnation looks like.
As of 2013, nearly 85 percent of the executive officers at the 50 largest publicly traded companies in Chicago were men. And 82 percent of the directors of those companies were men.
Continuing a four-year trend, nine companies had no women executive officers, while four had no female board members.
It’s going to take women until 2079 to achieve equal representation in boardrooms and the executive ranks of these companies, according The Chicago Network’s annual census of local women executives.
Believe it or not, 2079 is a five-year improvement from last year’s forecast from the Network, an invite-only group of high-ranking Chicago businesswomen. That’s thanks to slight improvements in other metrics and the addition of Ulta Beauty to the ranks of Chicago’s 50 largest public companies. Ulta had four women directors and two executive officers.
“If we’re going to see improvement, more than one-third of new board members are going to need to be women,” said Kate Bensen, the Network’s chief executive.
Bensen’s second concern is the number of companies, 33 of the 50, without a woman in their top five “earners,” which is “virtually unchanged” for three years.
“That creates stagnation in the pipeline,” Bensen said. “Because those earners are where other companies go to look for potential board members.”
Here’s how the trends look over time.
The number of women on big corporate boards has climbed slowly — from 61 to 95 — since The Chicago Network began its tracking in 1998. That holds for percentages as well. Women previously held 10.1 percent of the board seats. They now hold 17.9 percent.
The number of women executive officers remains off peak but has, for the most part, climbed slowly year over year from 47 women to 79. The number of women represents 15.5 percent of all executive officers, compared with 7.1 percent in 1998.
The data, compiled pro bono by Deloitte, is based on each company’s 2013 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. So recent changes won’t show up until next year’s report.
For instance, Ulta has since added another woman to its board. It is likely to be the first large Chicago company to have achieved gender parity in its boardroom since The Chicago Network began tracking.
“Having diversity of thought and experience, and that doesn’t just take the shape of gender, I believe, creates the best business outcomes,” Ulta CEO Mary Dillon said. “So I’d encourage anyone to strive to put various types of people around them.”
Also, each company picks whom it classifies as an “executive officer.” For instance, Abbott Laboratories, run by Miles White, reported 18 executive officers, while its spinoff, AbbVie, run by Richard Gonzalez, reported seven. Yet both reported that they had two women each in their executive pool.
Two out of seven is far better than two of 18.
In the report, nine companies have zero women executive officers. They are LKQ, Navistar, Catamaran, Tenneco, CNA Financial, U.S. Cellular, Old Republic, Telephone and Data Systems, and Mead Johnson Nutrition.
While Mead Johnson reported no women executive officers (out of seven), three of their 12 board members were women. Meanwhile, as of 2013, truck engine-maker Navistar and actuarial firm CNA Financial had no women executive officers and no women board members.
Also lacking women directors were fertilizer-maker CF Industries and logistic services provider Hub Group.
Three of these four are controlled by wealthy individuals or families.
CNA is controlled by the billionaire Tisch family of New York, two members of which, brothers Andrew and James Tisch, sit on the board.
Hub Group is controlled by the founding Yeager family. David Yeager is both CEO and chairman, while brother Mark Yeager is chief operating officer and vice chairman of the board.
Navistar is controlled by two rival Wall Street tycoons: billionaire Carl Icahn and Mark Rachesky of MHR Fund Management, who each own more than 17 percent stakes in the company.
Navistar said Samara Strycker joined the company in August as an executive officer in the role of senior vice president and corporate controller. “Recruiting and promoting women and minorities to our senior ranks and our board remains a key priority at Navistar, and we realize we have more to do in this area,” a company spokesman said.
“Unbelievable,” replied Michael Watkins, chairman of Genesis Advisers, which does leadership consulting, when given the list of underperformers. “They’re on that list, not because getting off it is impossible, but because they’ve made a decision not to prioritize it.”