How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Slow progress for women leaders in corporate America

December 11, 2012: 8:00 AM ET

New research shows that the number of women executives is heading in the right direction, but at a very slow pace.

FORTUNE -- Slooowww progress is the headline this morning  from research group Catalyst, which released its annual gender report on Fortune 500 companies and boards.

Here are the key takeaways:

- 16.6% of Fortune 500 company directors are women, up from 16.1% last year.

- 14.3% of Fortune 500 company executive officers are women, up from 14.1% a year ago.

- 8.1% of top earners in the Fortune 500 are female. That's up from 7.5% in 2011.

You won't find much to inspire you in the Catalyst report. But one bright spot not noted there: The number of female Fortune 500 CEOs will hit a record 21 on January 1 when Phebe Novakovic takes charge at General Dynamics (GD).

And don't pop the champagne, but we now have two--two!--Fortune 500 companies that have more women than men in their executive officer rankings.

One is Ingredion, until this year known as Corn Products International. Ingredion's CEO is a woman. Ilene Gordon, the former chief of Alcan Packaging, took charge in 2009 and rebuilt Ingredion's product portfolio and leadership team. Five of the company's 11 top officers are now women. It's working. Revenue exceeded $6.2 billion last year and the stock has been outperforming the S&P  since Gordon arrived. Ingredion (INGR) shares are up 27% in the past year.

The other company with more women than men at the top: Frontier Communications. CEO Maggie Wilderotter joined the telecom company, then known as Charter Communications, from Microsoft (MSFT) in 2004 and refashioned the board and the company's direction. Her market is rural telecom, which she has invested in aggressively by buying Verizon's (VRZN) rural assets. Wilderotter is a big player—on the boards of Procter & Gamble (PG) and Xerox (XRX)--and the sister of another Fortune 500 CEO, Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup (CPB). But her own return to investors is disappointing: Frontier (FTR) shares are down almost 9% this year and 59% over five years.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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