MIAMI, Fla. - Women are stalled in the climb up the corporate ladder. And nowhere is it more clear than in Florida, one of the country's most populous states.
A new study released Wednesday, shows that as the economy began to slow, so did the advancement of women. In Florida, women made no significant gains in winning top corporate jobs and even lost board director positions over the past two years. The 2008 Census by Women Executive Leadership mirrors a national trend that reveals women gained little ground advancing as business leaders.
''It's clear we have a long way to go,'' said Sherry Barrat, executive vice president for Northern Trust Corp. and president of personal financial services.
Indeed, men hold more than 92 percent of the board seats in the top 150 Florida public companies. That's even a higher proportion than they held the last time that WEL compiled data, in 2006. Mergers, consolidations and bankruptcies changed the corporate landscape, diminishing some of the large Florida public companies that had women as directors such as Claire's Stores, Jacuzzi Brands and Mayor's Jewelers.
''The 2008 results were not what we we hoping,'' said Cindy Kushner, chairman of Women Executive Leadership, an advocacy group. ``We would like to ask that Florida companies take time for reflection. Given that the majority of consumers are women, is your board representative of your customers?''
Amid the country's economic woes, women's advancement in corporate leadership is at a critical stage.
If the recession continues, women are poised to surpass men on the nation's payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history, according to new unemployment data. This is because most large-scale layoffs have been in male-dominated industries.
Unfortunately, the jobs women have -- and are supporting their families with -- are more of the low-paying jobs without benefits and a grand leap away from the corner office.
Many of my role models, women that reached the executive suite in Florida's public companies, no longer hold those positions. In WEL's 2004 Census, women held 67 executive positions at Florida top public companies. In it's 2008 Census, they held 49.
Downsized businesswomen will choose whether to pursue executive jobs that become available, join smaller firms or become entrepreneurs.
''The numbers are disappointing, there's no question about that,'' says Yvonne Jackson, a board member of Winn-Dixie ``I'm 60 years old this year and when I came along, you kept going regardless of obstacles. The next generation behind me, they've got options.''
Businesses will make choices, too. Despite the efforts of women's organizations such as WEL, 93 percent of executive jobs in Florida are held by men.
''I feel like it's a time for companies to think about what didn't work,'' says Jan Combopiano, vice president of Catalyst, a national women's organization. Now is the time to focus on talent and not rely on the old boys network, she says.
Going forward, women's advancement should be about the bottom line. There's a growing body of research that shows having female board members and top executives boosts financial performance.
''We've seen the rewards in my own company,'' Barrat of Northern Trust says. ``We have a diverse workforce, women in executive mangement and a high performance culture.''
If there's a bright spot in WEL's 2008 Census, it's the research that shows more women are advancing into the executive offices by holding the position of chief financial officer.
Evelyn D'An, a board member of two Florida public companies, sees hope. ``Those are women who can chair the audit committee and bring value to a board.''
Looking into the future, Evelyn Follit, a board member of Winn-Dixie, says smart businesses will not only advance women into the executive suite, they will support them.
Hopefully, by the next census, as the economy recovers, there will be more women in corporate leadership roles.