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July 24, 2006
Volume 84, Number 30
pp. 22-23


Women In Industry

Women post gains in the chemical company executive suite but not in the boardroom

Alexander H. Tullo

C&EN's annual survey of women serving on corporate boards and as executive officers of publicly traded chemical companies contains both good and bad news about women in the upper ranks of the industry: The number of female executive officers has increased, but the proportion of women board directors has decreased.

Of the 422 directors identified at 42 U.S. companies, 11.1% are women, down from 12.5% in 2005. The greatest proportion of women directors ever reported in the C&EN survey was in 2003, when women made up 12.8% of corporate boards.

Once again, the survey showed an increasing number of women serving as executive officers. Of the 422 executive officer positions in the 42 companies, 8.8% are held by women, an improvement over last year, when 7.8% of the positions were held by women.

This year, no woman is serving as an inside director; that is, a director who is also a company executive. Also this year, only one woman is serving in the top tier of company leadership as a chief executive officer, chief operating officer, or chief financial officer: Karen R. Osar, CFO of Chemtura.

Last year, Ruth I. Dreessen appeared in the survey as both CFO and a director of Westlake Chemical. She has since left the company to become CFO of Texas Petrochemicals, which is not included in the C&EN survey.

Because C&EN's survey covers only U.S.-based, publicly traded chemical companies, it does not capture certain women who hold key positions in the industry.

One is Fran Keeth, executive vice president of chemicals at Royal Dutch Shell. She had been CEO of Shell Chemical, the firm's U.S. chemical arm, but was recently replaced in that position by another woman, Stacy Methvin, former vice president of base chemicals in the Americas and global C4 and C5 chemicals at Shell.

Other prominent women not captured by the survey include Stephanie A. Burns, president and CEO of the joint venture Dow Corning; Peggy Viehweger, president and CEO of Supresta, the phosphorus flame retardant business that Akzo Nobel sold to private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings in 2004; and Inga Carus, president and CEO of family-owned potassium permanganate maker Carus Chemical.

Several of the companies that reported last year are not in this year's survey. These include Great Lakes Chemical, which was purchased by Crompton Corp. to form Chemtura, and Vulcan and Alcoa, which sold their chemical businesses. C&EN has replaced them with Celanese, Huntsman Corp., and Monsanto. Last year's results have been revised accordingly.

C&EN's isn't the only survey of women on corporate boards and in upper management positions. In fact, the C&EN survey is patterned after two conducted by Catalyst, a New York City-based group that fosters women in business leadership roles.

Catalyst's 2005 survey of Fortune 500 company directors found that 14.7% of the directorships were held by women, an increase from 13.6% shown in its previous survey, conducted in 2003. Despite the gain, Catalyst President Ilene H. Lang says progress is too slow. "Our research reveals that if we continue at this pace, it could take 70 years for women to reach parity with men on corporate boards," she said when the results were announced.

In 2002, when Catalyst conducted its last survey of Fortune 500 corporate officers-a broader category than the executive officers that C&EN counts-it found that 15.7% of the positions were held by women.

Across the Atlantic, the European Professional Women's Network conducts a survey of women serving on the boards of directors of top European companies. Women accounted for only 8.5% of the 4,535 directors surveyed earlier this year, putting Europe behind the U.S. in this category.

To group all of Europe together is misleading, however, as there are vast differences among countries. For example, the Scandinavian countries have the largest representation of women, with Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark posting 28.8%, 22.8%, 20.0%, and 17.9% incorporation of women on boards, respectively. Norway has a not-yet-fulfilled mandate requiring 40% representation on corporate boards. Other countries such as Greece (4.4%), Italy (1.9%), and Portugal (0.0%) are far behind.

Earlier this year, Bayer Corp. sponsored "The Bayer Facts of Science Education XII: CEOs on STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] Diversity: The Need, The Seed, The Feed." In this survey, top executives of 100 science and technology companies were questioned about the representation of women and minorities in their science workforces.

Some 78% of the executives said they are concerned that the U.S. is in danger of losing its global dominance in science and technology because of a shortage of manpower.

The survey also found that 65% of executives thought women and minorities are underrepresented in their industry's workforce, and 45% saw the poor representation in their own company's workforce. But 74% said they aren't frustrated by their company's ability to hire women and minorities.

Mae C. Jemison, who is the first African American female astronaut, CEO of medical devices company BioSentient, and a spokeswoman for Bayer's Making Science Make Sense program, is encouraged that executives are concerned about the representation of women and minorities and about science technology education. But she cautions, "Even though they recognize that women and minorities are severely underrepresented in the field of science, they don't consider this underrepresentation part of the problem with lack of manpower."

Jemison is more than willing to draw that connection for them. "If we work on developing the potential talent in over 50% of our population, that could go a long way to solving our manpower issues," she says.


Table: Mixed Results
Fewer directors, but more executive officers, are women at chemical companies this year

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society


  • Table: Mixed Results
    Fewer directors, but more executive officers, are women at chemical companies this year.

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