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Business school study shows gender imbalance

By Peter Walker for CNN
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(CNN) -- You're a bright, thrusting young executive who has just completed an MBA and is dead set on heading to the top.

Will you make it to CEO? Sadly, according to a major new business school survey, that depends to a large extent on your chromosomes.

The massive study by two researchers from the highly-rated Tuck School of Business in the US state of New Hampshire, plus one from another university, showed that almost half of the country's 1,000 biggest companies had not a single woman in a principal executive's position.

A grand total of 1.7% of all the CEOs in the companies examined were female, according to the six-year study, which looked into the careers of 10,000 high-ranking executives.

Equally dispiriting for ambitious women graduating from business school today is that the numbers are not predicted to grow that much in the coming years.

"Even if the upper pipeline has a lot more women today than it did when we launched this research in 2000 -- and I know of no data that indicates it has -- an improvement so recent is highly unlikely to have much effect on the number of female CEOs for at least until 2016," said Tuck's Professor Constance Helfat, one of the co-authors.

The study found no women at all in the top ranks of 48% of the companies, and only a token presence in many others -- just 7.2% had more than two female senior executives and 2.6% had more than three.

Slow progress

The authors estimate that the proportion of female CEOs will increase from the current level of about 1.7% to about 4.9% in 2010 and 6.2% in 2016.

"Even though 6.2% is more than triple the current percentage, it doesn't seem very impressive when one considers that by 2016 it will have been about 40 years since women entered corporate management in force," noted Helfat.

Moreover, these estimates are based on the assumption that executives move up one rank every five years on average, which, the study's authors suspect, is "perhaps optimistic."

Some industries appear more female-friendly than others.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the trucking industry had just 3.8% of female senior executives, a figure that rose to 13.1% for the cosmetics business.

But elsewhere there were seeming anomalies: computer software (13.4%) and transportation equipment (15.7%) were among the top 10 industries in percentages of high-ranking women executives, while furniture (4.2%) was among the bottom 10.

There were also surprises in women's executive roles.

"Our results do support the widespread impression that women are under-represented in line and finance positions, but, contrary to popular belief, they are over-represented in accounting and legal affairs and hold their own in strategy and information technology," noted another author, Professor Dawn Harris of Loyola University Chicago.

The mammoth research effort saw the academics look into factors behind an executive's advancement through the corporate ranks, such as the roles they performed previously, how old they were and how long they had been with the company.

This had some positive news for women.

"In companies with women executives, the women were younger, had less company tenure, and less tenure in their current positions than the men," the study explains.

"These factors suggest that many companies were aggressively hiring and promoting women into the top executive ranks.

"Moreover, although women clustered lower down in the executive hierarchy than men, two thirds of the women executives held positions in the two levels just below the second-in-command. Once women are in the executive hierarchy, they do well in terms of rank."


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Not welcome? Women are under-represented at the top level.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006

FACT BOX

EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

QUICK VOTE

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