Women Are Still Struggling to Break Into Executive Ranks

Women hold only a small percentage of CEO jobs at companies in the S&P 500, but the number has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017. Increases have also been made when it comes to females holding non-CEO top executive positions, but the overall number is still a low percentage of the total.

Only 2.8% of CEOs were women in 2007 and that number rose to 5.4% in 2017, according to data from Pew Research Center. Women have also made gains at the next-highest level in the corporate structure -- titles including chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and other positions that were within the three highest-paid below CEO. The share of women in these positions has gone from 172 of 2,002 (8.6%) in 2007 to 239 out of 1,980 (12.1%) in 2017.

A difficult path

Though more women are serving in top executive positions, the jobs they are occupying may make it harder for them to become a CEO.

"In both of the years examined, top women executives (other than CEOs) were heavily concentrated in a relative handful of corporate jobs -- mainly related to finance, legal affairs, and human resources," wrote Pew's Drew Desilver. "That has implications for their potential to ascend to the CEO's office: Previous research suggests that executives in such roles are less likely to become CEOs than more operations-focused executives."

Women have made very modest progress when it comes to holding president or COO positions -- usually the No. 2 job at a company and the person most likely to be the next CEO. In 2007, only six women held the COO or president title at an S&P 500 company and that number has climbed to 18 in 2017, but that's only 7.5% of the total.

It's not just about executives

Women have struggled to achieve equality in the workplace. Wage disparity -- the idea that women earn roughly $0.75 to $0.80 for each dollar earned by a man with similar qualifications in the same job -- is still very much an issue. In addition, women also have a lower chance of getting a raise when they ask for one, according to data from Credit Loan.

The study showed that 13.3% of men who ask for a raise receive exactly what they ask for while only 9.1%% of women can say the same thing. It's also worth noting that the same report showed that women are also less likely -- 53.6% versus 43.3% -- to even ask for a raise than men are.

A small step forward

While some progress has been made, the needle has not moved forward all that much when it comes to women taking top executive positions. Clearly for that to happen, there needs to be progress across all layers of S&P 500 companies. Women have to become managers, directors, and vice presidents in higher numbers across more areas of operation in order for them to be in line for top-tier executive and CEO posts.

To make that happen companies need to be proactive. They need to examine their hiring and promotion processes to make sure merit gets rewarded equally no matter the gender of the person involved. In addition, many companies may need to make an effort to bring qualified women into areas of their operations that lead to the executive positions that most often get promoted to CEO.

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.