Catalyst for change

A new study shows that diversity has flatlined in America’s largest companies.

Catalyst, a US-based think-tank,  tracks the composition of supervisory boards, executive teams and high earners in Fortune 500 companies to give an annual snapshot of diversity progress in some of the world’s largest and best-known organisations.

This year, 14.1 per cent of executive officers (those immediately below board level) were women, compared with 14.4 per cent last year. Deborah Soon, senior vice-president of strategy at Catalyst, says:

“These are the women who are board-ready and represent the pipeline for board positions, but their numbers are not increasing.”

Only one-fifth of companies had 25 per cent or more women in their senior executive teams, and more than a quarter had no women executive officers at all. Women held 7.5 per cent of top earner executive positions, down from last year’s 7.6 per cent.

Soon says:

“You would think that [with] numerous research demonstrating that performance improves with diverse boards and teams, that US companies would sit up and take advantage of it. But they haven’t.”

Board composition is the only area that has seen positive movement, albeit small. Today, 16.1 per cent of directors are women, up from 15.7 per cent last year. The numbers of chairwomen was static at 2.6 per cent.

Soon adds:

“When you peel away the census and look at what underlies it, there are some shocking revelations. Whether it is quota legislation or the threat of it, the stick seems to be working in many countries. The question in the US is ‘what is it that will get the job done’.”

While most chief executives are not in favour of quotas, setting targets is a priority, while shareholders, corporate customers and suppliers can all do their bit, says Soon.

“Women are promoted for their performance, while men are promoted for their potential. The single most important factor [for success] is for women to have an influential sponsor.”

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.