Israel Ranks Global No. 2 for Female Board Members, at 15%

Catalyst: It's proven, companies with more women execs do better.

The labor market is central to creating equal opportunity for women. But a census by the international organization Catalyst finds that Israel has a way to go, participants in the Women in Business Conference, held at Tel Aviv University, were told yesterday.

The census, a collaboration between Catalyst, the Israel Women's Network and food manufacturer Strauss Group, and carried out by Geocartography, was the first of its kind. It checked the representation of women in top management positions at big companies on the TA-100 index and in the workforce in general.

Ofer Vaknin

The census found that of the top 100 Israeli companies, Housing & Construction, Gazit Inc., Ormat Industries, and Delek Drilling lead the list with women in 50% of top posts.

B-Communications, Bank Hapoalim, Strauss Group and Electra also have respectable rates of more than 40%, the census found.

Catalyst, founded in 1962, is a nonprofit organization that works with businesses to advance women in the workforce. Some 400 businesses have joined hands with Catalyst, which is led by president and CEO Ilene Lang.

Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the Strauss Group and the power behind the Israeli census, told the conference audience that she became aware of the group at a meeting of senior female managers at the home of Pepsi Co. CEO Indra Nooyi.

For the last 15 years Catalyst has been studying the correlation between the proportion of female managers in businesses and the companies' performance. Its conclusions are clear: Companies with more women do better, Lang told the audience. Investment in women pays more, she said.

Though some companies don't have one, at most the glass ceiling is all too palpable. At the bottom of the labor market pyramid, the genders are equal: Women constitute half the workforce. But the higher the position, the fewer women there are. Moving up to management positions throughout the workforce, women hold only 29.6% of the jobs.

Looking narrowly at the companies listed on the TA-100 index - the 100 publicly traded companies with the biggest market capitalizations on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange - women hold just 18% of the management positions.

In absolute numbers, out of 937 management positions at these 100 companies, women hold 170 of the jobs.

Only 5% of the TA-100 companies have female CEOs.

The figures are hardly good, but international comparisons show that women's situation here isn't that bad. Based on figures for 2010 for the Fortune-500 companies, only 14.4% of the senior executives were women (up from 13.5% in 2009 ). While there is improvement, the numbers remain very low, Lang said.

At the very top of the Fortune-500 companies, only 7.5% of posts are held by women, Lang related. In South Africa, the figure is 25%.

The board of directors is where strategic decisions about companies are made, and there too, women are scarce. In Israel women constitute only 15% of directors, indicating that the companies aren't making an effort to find women for the job.

Yet an international comparison puts Israel in second place. At the top is Norway with 44.2%, and after Israel comes the U.S. with 14.8%. Then is South Africa with 14.3%, and Canada with 13%.

When it comes to chairwoman of the board, though, the figure plunges to a mere 5% in Israel. Catalyst proved in a 2008 study of Fortune-500 companies that the more women there are on the board, the better the companies do financially.

The study discussed the characteristics women bring to the boardroom: They miss fewer meetings than their male counterparts, and they cause the men to miss fewer meetings, too. They also tend to be more involved in control, for instance by sitting on the audit board.

All studies show gender diversification in management is better for companies, Ofra Strauss said.