Time for Romney-Style Binders? Corporate Women Lag Behind

Mitt Romney may have introduced "binder full of women" into the lexicon, but a group working to promote women in business is proposing its own binder full of women in conjunction with its release on the latest, dismal numbers on women at the top of corporate America.

Despite female executives such as Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, there has been little progress when it comes to women at the highest levels of business.

The study, released this month by Catalyst, a non-profit group dedicated to expanding business opportunities for women, found women hold just 16.6 percent of corporate board positions at Fortune 500 companies, and only 14 percent of jobs in the executive suite. Also, women make up just 8 percent of top-wage earners.

"Our latest study shows that the needle has barely budged for women aspiring to corporate boards or executive positions in corporate America," said Catalyst Chief Operation Officer Deborah Gillis.

The numbers don't surprise Janet Hill, but the long-time business executive is disappointed.

"I am sorry to hear those statistics," Hill told ABC News.

Hill, 64, is one woman who has broken through the glass ceiling. She currently sits on four corporate boards, those for Wendy's International, Sprint Nextel Corporation, Dean Foods Company and The Carlyle Group. Hill, who started and ran her own Washington D.C. management consultant firm for 30 years, has served on some nine corporate boards in the past 25 years.

She also is unique in another way. She is one of a very small group of African- American women on corporate boards. The Catalyst report found that 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color on their boards of directors.

Being the lone female is something Hill has gotten used to, even as she tries to change the culture. Hill is the only woman on the Sprint Nextel and Wendy's boards, and one of just two women board members at Dean Foods and The Carlyle Group.

Even companies who cater to women don't put them on their boards. Hill remembered serving on the board for the company Tambrands, the maker of Tampex.

"Most of the board members were men," she said.

Hill and Gillis both agreed that there is no shortage of female candidates.

"What's really clear to me," said Gillis, "is that this isn't a supply problem … and it's certainly not a question of women not aspiring to these roles."

To try to change the gender make-up of corporate boards, Catalyst is announcing a new initiative to enlist the help of the CEOs of the nation's largest companies. Catalyst wants these CEOs to name names.

"We're calling on the CEOs … to sponsor and recommend women that they're prepared to say to their peers that these women are ready for corporate board service," said Gillis.

Catalyst will keep that ongoing list - their binder of women, if you will. It'll be at the ready when corporations are filling board positions. Gillis is hopeful it will jumpstart the process of getting more women on corporate boards.

As she put it, "We hope this will break the log jam, partly because those CEOs, they [will] have skin in the game."

Catalyst said the group's research has shown that having more women on a board often translates to having more women at the top management levels of a company.

"It becomes a driver of women in those leadership positions in the future," Gillis said.

Hill believes it's critical to get more women and minorities on corporate boards, but she's not certain Catalyst's approach of putting together a list of possible female board candidates will work. She believes what's needed is more aggressive search firms - the types often hired to look for candidates.

The search firms, she said, don't think "expansively" unless corporations specifically ask them to consider women.

What's also critical, said Hill, is for CEOs who have outstanding women and minorities in their companies to discuss those candidates with each other in those "informal settings where so much business goes on."

It's the kind of conversation, she said, that needs to take place not just in the office, but on the golf course.

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