SEATTLE'S CORPORATE establishment is acclaimed for its progressive employment practices, an ethic embodied by its virtually unanimous opposition to the anti-affirmative-action Initiative 200. But just how progressive are our largest corporations when it comes to recruiting women to join their boards of directors? Not very.
A survey of Western Washington's 10 largest publicly traded companies reveals that women occupy only 12 out of 102 directorships—or 11.8 percent of the total. What's more, of those 12 positions, only five are held by women who live in the Seattle area—and Phyllis Campbell, president/CEO of US Bank of Washington, holds two of them.
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"Most CEOs of major, publicly held corporations are looking for CEOs of other major, publicly held corporations to serve on their boards. There aren't many women in that position," says SAFECO board member Judy Runstad, a partner at Foster Pepper & Shefelman and one of Seattle's most influential women. "As long as they confine their search in such a way, things will continue on like this."
Campbell and Runstad both serve on the board of SAFECO, one of the three Top 10 local companies that carry two women directors. Campbell serves on another such corporation, Puget Sound Energy, with Sally Narodick, former president/CEO of the educational software company Edmark. (Nordstrom also has two women on its board but both are out-of-towners.) Jill Ruckelshaus, wife of former Nixon/Reagan cabinet member and GOP fund raiser William Ruckelshaus, serves on the board of Costco. The other Top 10 companies with one woman on their boards are Airborne Express, Alaska Air, Boeing, Microsoft, and Weyerhaeuser. One Top 10 company—PACCAR—lacks a female director altogether.
However underrepresented women are on local corporate boards, the numbers are slightly worse nationwide. Among Fortune 500 companies, 10.6 percent of directorships are held by women, according to Catalyst, a New York Citybased research and advocacy group that helps women climb the corporate ladder. (For more information on this issue, go to Catalyst's Web site, www.catalystwomen.org.)