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Bentley University, The Boston Club and Mercer Confirm Declines of Women in Leadership Roles

December 15, 2008

Three Bentley University researchers, in partnership with The Boston Club and Mercer, have found that women continue to be an underutilized resource in the boardrooms and executive suites of Massachusetts companies, according to the 2008 Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers of Massachusetts Public Companies.

The Census, co-sponsored by Bentley University, Mercer and The Boston Club, and presented at a breakfast on December 16 at the Westin Copley Plaza, shows that the number and percent of board seats filled by women declined for the first time since 2003 to just 11.0 percent of the directors of the 100 largest public companies in the state. Thirty-nine of the 100 largest companies still have no women on their boards. Once again, there were no gains in racial diversity in the boardrooms: ten women of color serve as directors (1.2%), the same number as in 2007.

The number of women in executive positions decreased to 68, the lowest since beginning the Census research in 2003. Fifty-four of the 100 companies still have no women executive officers and 76 companies have no women among their highest paid executives. And, there are still 30 companies that have no women in either director or executive officer positions.

"The findings ring alarm bells," says Susan Adams, Bentley University Associate Professor of Management, who co-authored the Census with Toni Wolfman, Executive- in Residence at Bentley's Women's Leadership Institute and Patricia Flynn, Bentley University Trustee Professor of Economics and Management. "Companies are not tapping available, talented resources. This is not good for the companies, consumers, shareholders or the economy."

"Given the current economy this is a business issue," says Flynn. "Good corporate governance is positively correlated with the presence of women directors. It is important to take stock of board capabilities to handle new challenges."

There is, however, reason for some optimism. The 2008 Census includes a special analysis on Succession Planning. It shows that the age and tenure of many directors suggest potential turnover in board seats. Nineteen companies have a total of 25 directors who are 75 or older; and, 40% of nine company boards have directors serving 15 or more years.

The 2008 Census concludes that women are clearly an underutilized resource available to Massachusetts companies, and that help is increasingly available to companies in identifying qualified women for board and executive positions. "In addition to executive search firms, The Boston Club and its partner groups in the Interorganization Network (ION) across the country are willing and able to help in this regard," says Wolfman, who assists in identifying qualified board candidates. "Our goal in the year ahead is to help Massachusetts position itself for competing in better times!"

A copy of the full report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Key Findings

  • Women hold 92 (11.0%) of the 837 board seats of the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts, a decline in both the number and percentage (96 and 11.5%, respectively) from a year ago.
  • Thirty-nine (39%) companies have no women on their boards of directors, compared to 37 last year.
  • Eight of the ten (80%) Fortune 500 companies in the Census have at least one woman director, compared to 88.2% nationally.
  • Women account for 68 (9.2%) of the 736 executive officers of the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts, the lowest number and percentage in six years.
  • The majority (54%) of the state's 100 largest public companies have no women executive officers, the highest number of companies since 2003.
  • Twenty-four (24%) companies have at least one woman among the most highly compensated executives, the lowest number of companies ever reported in the Census.
  • Thirty of the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts have no woman in either their boardroom or their executive suite, up from 23 last year.
  • Thirty-eight companies have at least one woman director and one executive officer, down from 41 a year ago.



BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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