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Women Win More Board Seats

But their progress varies greatly from industry to industry

Women are slowly making their way into the inner sanctum of corporate America: the boardroom.

For the first time, 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies - 417 - have at least one woman director, according to an annual survey released yesterday by Catalyst. Also, the number of corporations with two or more women directors has increased 21 percent in the past two years.

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"There's certainly been some progress, but we still have a long way to go," says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit research advocacy group for women in business.

Women currently hold 10.2 percent of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, according to the survey. Of a total of 6,123 board seats, women occupy 626. That compares with just 46 board seats women held in 1977, Ms. Wellington says.

The study shows a strong correlation between the number of women in top positions at a company and the number of female directors. Corporations with three or more women directors are four times more likely to have women holding the highest level corporate titles - president, vice president, chairman, and chief executive officer - than companies with just one woman director.

"Some people say that women board directors are window dressing," Wellington says. "But this demonstrates that a company that is committed to getting and advancing women is committed to getting and advancing women at all levels."

Meanwhile, a first-time count of "inside" directors - company officers who serve on its board - shows that only 11 of 1,216 are women, indicating that women still hold relatively few top-management posts.

On Fortune 500 boards, women hold the most seats in the cosmetics, publishing, pharmaceutical, insurance, and telecommunications industries. Meanwhile, engineering, computer, food and drug, and motor-vehicle industries tend to have no women directors.

Why should companies diversify their boards? "If everyone on a board has the same background ... you're not going to get as good a decision emerging from a homogenous group of people," Wellington says.

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Other survey findings include:

*Each of the 10 most profitable Fortune 500 companies has at least one female director; seven have two.

*Women of color hold 1.4 percent of total board seats.

*One in 4 women directors serves on two or more boards.

Companies Where Women Have Several Board Seats

Among the Fortune 500 largest US companies, 23 have three or more women directors. Below are some of these firms.

Company to board total

Aetna Life & Casualty 3 of 10

Avon 4 of 13

Baxter International 3 of 16

Consolidated Edison 3 of 14

Dayton Hudson 3 of 13

Gannett 4 of 13

Golden West Financial 3 of 14

Hasbro 4 of 15

Johnson & Johnson 3 of 15

Kroger 3 of 15

Maytag 3 of 14

US West 3 of 11

Source: Catalyst

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