By Catalyst

Despite a recent uptick in news coverage of the gender leadership gap, pay equity, and women on boards, a recent study reveals that the needle still hasn’t budged for women aspiring to top leadership positions in the corporate world. It’s not enough to keep pointing out the problem—Catalyst and organizations with similar missions must propose solutions as well.

According to the 2012 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors and 2012 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Executive Officers and Top Earners:

• Women’s share of board director and executive officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year.

• Women held only 16.6 percent of board seats in 2012—the seventh consecutive year of no growth.

• Women held only 14.3 percent of executive officer positions—flat-lined for the third straight year.

• Women of color held only 3.3 percent of board seats, indicating no growth.

• More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies had no women of color board directors for the fifth consecutive year.

• Women held only 8.1 percent of top earner slots.

The situation is similar in Canada. Last year, the 2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors showed that:

• Women’s representation on Canadian (FP500) boards had increased by only half a percentage point from 2009 (to 14.5 percent).

• Nearly 40 percent of FP500 companies had no women on their boards.

• More than 46 percent of FP500 public companies had no women directors.

One key strategy for improving gender diversity on boards is demonstrating to corporate leaders around the world that a pool of talented, board-ready women candidates exists. Two recent initiatives to increase gender diversity on boards allow concerned companies to lead by example: advancing women in their own boardrooms and providing extraordinary leadership opportunities for top women executives around the world.

Catalyst Corporate Board Resource

The Catalyst Corporate Board Resource empowers the organization’s Board Directors and member company CEOs to recommend for board service women they are personally willing to sponsor and endorse as “corporate board-ready.” This directory is a resource for companies conscious of the benefits of gender diversity to consult when board seats become available.

Catalyst Accord

In 2012, Catalyst also created the Catalyst Accord, a unique initiative that invites FP500 Canadian companies to stand up and be counted by setting voluntary goals for increasing the representation of women in their companies over a five-year period. The goal is to see women’s representation in the FP500 climb to 25 percent by 2017.

These resources offer one solution to the underutilization of women leaders as corporate directors and the corresponding glacial progress in their representation on corporate boards. Catalyst’s research on the business case for women on corporate boards demonstrates that companies with more women on their boards, on average, financially outperform those with fewer women. A recent Catalyst report, Sponsoring Women to Success, also demonstrates that effective sponsorship can guarantee greater access to advancement opportunities for high performers. By directly sponsoring women qualified for board service, these resources and others address the growing need for women board directors and help correct the impression that there is a dearth of qualified women candidates.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business.