Monday, February 20, 2006

Peeking through the glass ceiling - Study examines number of women executives in the workforce

Article Launched: 2/19/2006 07:52 AM

Peeking through the glass ceiling
Study examines number of women executives in the workforce
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Women control $14 trillion in wealth, represent nearly half of all investors, and comprise 46 percent of the nation's workforce, according to a recent study.
That study, released by the University of California, Davis, examined California's 200 largest publicly-traded companies and the number of women employed as executive officers or board directors. The findings were disappointing, said Dean Nicole Woolsey Biggart.

"We are clearly not leading the charge," she told The Reporter. "I was really surprised we weren't head and shoulders above everybody else."

California ranks sixth among cities and states in terms of its percentage of female executives; 8.2 percent hold executive officer positions, which is less than Georgia, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Wisconsin and Chicago. The state comes in second, behind Chicago, with 11.4 percent of board seats held by women.

Does Solano County and its array of organizations mirror those assessed by UC Davis? The Reporter surveyed a sampling of local businesswomen in high-ranking positions, and asked for their impressions.

"I see that more and more of my customers are female and own their own business," noted Eleanor Felbaum, owner of Vacaville's Pontiac, Buick, GMC dealership.

Felbaum explained that while many women entrepreneurs are beginning to tip the scales of what was once a indubitably male business community in the county, she herself is an anomaly in a male-dominated industry.

"General Motors has 7,000 dealerships throughout the country," she remarked, "and out of that we have about 235 female dealers."

She continued, "Since 1979, I've been in the car business, and I've never felt that because I'm a female it's been more challenging. I truly believe anybody - so long as they have the mindset - can accomplish anything in this country."

The owner and president of Fairfield-based Credit Bureau Associates, Kathy Parsons, agreed.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the individual," she explained. "If you want to be a victim as a woman, it'll happen - but if you want to get ahead, you're smart enough and you have the energy to do it, you can get ahead."

In Solano County, she said, the presence of women in business has decidedly "increased in the 25 years I've been here; there are a lot of small businesses in our area that are female-owned."

Parsons added, "I see a lot more women in corporate positions now than I did in the '70s."

Deborah Romer, Kaiser Permanente senior vice president/area manager for Napa and Solano, concurred.

"Looking back on my old days in business school, that was certainly a concern - getting more women in the boardrooms. I think it's improving," she said, "but we're just not yet where we need to be."

She did, however, feel that women are rather well-represented in Solano County, as did Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, president and chief executive officer of Travis Credit Union.

"I see a lot of women in leadership positions - not necessarily in CEO positions - but I think the number is growing," Ouwerkerk noted.

Ouwerkerk was the recipient of the 2005 Athena award presented to exceptional businesswomen who serve as inspiration and mentors to other businesswomen in the community.

"I like to encourage women in businesses, but I encourage all people," she remarked.

Ouwerkerk explained with regards to her own 13-year history holding CEO positions, "I don't think being a woman has presented any unique challenges; I think that there are challenges that go along with being in a top position."

As does Gwen Reynolds, vice president of business services for First Northern Bank.

"I can only say hard work has rewarded me well," Reynolds said. She explained that was true for all the female department heads in her organization. "All the women are very professional and earned their titles."

Reynolds, too, felt Solano County businesswomen were increasing in numbers.

"When I look around, I think 'Wow! When was the last time we had a female president of the chamber?"' she remarked.

The president of the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce, G. Leslie Fay, felt that though women have "broken the glass ceiling," it can still be tough to compete in a male-dominated society.

Sandy Person, vice president of the Solano Economic Development Corp., surmised, "Thankfully, women in the Solano County workforce continue to move up in position and authority - no doubt some wish the ascent were faster."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

California's top 25 companies in gender diversity
Golden West Financial Corp.
Hot Topic Inc.
Westaff Inc.
Gymboree Corp.
Providian Financial Corp.
Autodesk Inc.
Calpine Corp.
Cost Plus Inc.
Jack In The Box Inc.
Knight Ridder Inc.
Mckesson Corp.
Wells Fargo & Co.
WFS Financial Inc.
Gap Inc.
Advanced Medical Optics Inc.
Guess Inc.
Hewlett Packard Co.
Molina Healthcare Inc.
Restoration Hardware Inc.
Ross Stores Inc.
Sharper Image Corp.
Catellus Development Corp.
Davita Inc.
Safeway Inc.
Williams-Sonoma Inc.
Source: UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders

Companies with no women directors include
Apple Computer Inc.
Brookfield Homes Corp.
Callaway Golf Corp.
Cheesecake Factory Inc.
Genentech Inc.
Google Inc.
Leapfrog Enterprises Inc.
Public Storage Inc.
Robert Half International Inc.
Smart & Final Inc.
Sun Healthcare Group
Symantec Corp.
Univision Communications Inc.
Wet Seal Inc.
Yahoo Inc.
Source: UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders

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