California’s biggest firms have few female executives, study finds


Women hold less than 10% of all top executive and board of directors positions within California’s 400 largest companies, according to a study released Thursday by UC Davis.

Southern California companies with the most female executives include Hot Topic Inc. of the City of Industry, LTC Properties Inc. of Westlake Village, Electro Rent Corp. of Van Nuys, Health Net Inc. of Woodland Hills, Nara Bancorp Inc. of Los Angeles and DineEquity of Glendale. Of the 79 Los Angeles County firms listed in the survey, women made up 12% of their directors and 12.3% of their highest-paid executives.

The data, covering companies including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Jack in the Box Inc., were distilled from public reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The survey shows women holding 9.5% of board seats and highest-paid executive positions, which is in line with previous years. Sixteen (4%) of the 400 companies had a woman as chief executive, up from 15 in 2009 and 11 in 2006.


Donald Palmer, a UC Davis management professor who spearheaded the survey with co-author Amanda Kimball, said the percentage of women elected to a company’s board was similar to the percentage of women in its top management.

“What this suggests is that once you make it into top management, the chances of getting appointed to the board are roughly the same whether you’re a man or a woman,” Palmer said. “If discrimination is taking place, and I think it is, it’s likely taking place at the many lower levels in an organization.”

Palmer said larger companies are more likely to appoint female executives to visible board positions. The percentage of female board members (10%) is slightly higher than the percentage of women in top management (8.8%).

“If a large firm is more concerned about image, they’re more likely to be worried about their boards looking balanced,” Palmer said.

The survey found that more than one-third of the 400 largest public companies in California have no women among their directors or top-paid executives. Palmer said tech businesses in Silicon Valley had the worst record when it came to selecting women for these positions.

The university has conducted the study for the last six years in conjunction with Watermark, a Bay Area nonprofit that offers networking opportunities for current and aspiring female executives.

“One of our long-term goals is to go beyond just documenting the representation of women and try to examine why the variation exists and also what the consequences of the variation are,” Palmer said.