Women have made dramatic progress in gaining seats on boards of directors of the largest corporations, but most corporate boards still have no women directors and overall change has been less spectacular, according to a report prepared for the Department of Labor.
Few of the corporations that have a woman director have more than one, according to the analysis performed for the Labor Department's Women's Bureau.
The survey also found that many of the women serving on boards owe their seats to family ties or stock ownership -- in contrast to men, who often become directors as a result of their positions within a corporation.
The study of corporate board women was performed under contract for the Labor Department by U.S. Human Resources Corp. of San Francisco, a private social-planning and research firm. Among its findings:
While only 6 percent of the 1,000 largest industrial corporations had a woman director in 1970, by 1980 some 22 percent did. The figures jumped from 2 percent to 58 percent for the 50 largest utility firms and from 8 percent to 60 percent for the 50 largest retailing firms.
About 15 percent of the women on the boards of 625 publicly traded companies held 31 percent of the directorships while 85 percent held only one board position. Women who hold multiple directorships appear most often on the boards of larger corporations.
More than 57 percent of the directorships on boards of publicly held companies have been obtained since 1975. The average age of women directors on those boards is 55.4.
The study also found that many women directors don't view themselves as representing a special constituency of women. "The 'constituency' or 'representation' theory of directorship is understandably upsetting to women directors who most often see their first duty to the stockholders, while issues about women are held in varying degrees of importance," the report noted.
"On the other hand, even those who profess no interest in, nor undertanding of, 'a woman's viewpoint' frequently admit that they are more sensitive to women's issues that come before their boards than are their male counterparts and therefore may find themselves in advocacy positions," the report said.
One common path to corporate directorships for women was family affiliation. Another was through stock ownership. Of 1,117 women on boards of privately held companies examined for the study, 40.7 percent had family ties within their corporations. This was also true of 30.6 percent of the women on the boards of publicly held companies and 15.9 percent of the women on the boards of the largest corporations.
No comparable data were given for men, but the study noted that, while nearly 33 percent of all directors of the largest corporations were insiders (someone who had come from the corporate ranks), only 6 percent of the women directors were.