Women's glass ceiling 'still hard to crack'

NEW YORK • The prospects of having more women in the top post of chief executive officer (CEO) do not look promising.

Even with the highest turnover rate among CEOs in more than a dozen years, women captured less than 3 per cent of new positions, the lowest since 2011, according to a PwC study of 2,500 global public companies released yesterday.

In the United States and Canada, less than 1 per cent of new CEOs were female, the worst showing in the 16-year history of the study and the third straight annual decline.

"It's really bad news for the US and Canada," said Ms DeAnne Aguirre, who advises executives on talent and culture at PwC's strategy-consulting arm. "Companies need to do more than what they're doing today to get talented women to be promoted to CEO."

Women run only 4.4 per cent of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies and hold about 20 per cent of board seats, up from 16 per cent five years ago, according to executive recruiter Spencer Stuart.

According to a US Government Accountability Office report issued in January, the US may be 40 years from gender parity on boards even if the pace of replacement doubles .

Ms Aguirre said the results last year might be blamed partly on the fact that industries with a poor track record of promoting women - energy, industrials and materials - dominated turnover at the top. Those industries were the least likely to hire women in the past dozen years, she added.

The study found that 10 of 359 incoming CEOs last year were women. Ms Andrea Greenberg, who took the top post at MSG Networks after it was spun off from Madison Square Garden, was the only example in the US or Canada, PwC said.

Ms Aguirre said one improvement last year was that for the first time, women were not more likely than men to be forced out of the top job. Female CEOs are also more likely to be hired from the outside than men, suggesting companies are not doing enough to nurture internal candidates, she added.

Most companies have a formal policy making diversity a priority, including promoting women. But it is not clear if there has been as much success changing informal attitudes and practices, she said. "Even though there's a lot of talk about it, we need to do more," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Women's glass ceiling 'still hard to crack''. Print Edition | Subscribe