Women Need to Operate Differently to Gain CEO Status, New Book by Branson Suggests

Issue Date: 
January 8, 2007

Women must follow different paths in order to gain CEO status, Pitt law professor concludes

Although women are completing MBA and law degrees in record-high numbers, success in achieving executive positions continues to elude them.

Pitt law professor Douglas M. Branson’s new book, No Seat at the Table: How Corporate Governance and Law Keep Women Out of the Boardroom (New York University Press, 2006), offers explanations for the phenomenon and advice on how women can break through the glass ceiling.

According to a recent Catalyst study, women hold 14.7 percent of all Fortune 500 board seats, and if progress continues at the current rate, it will take approximately 70 years for women to attain equal representation with men on corporate boards, suggesting that neither career counselors nor scholars have paid enough attention to the role that corporate governance plays in maintaining the gender gap in America’s executive quarters.

Branson, the W. Edward Sell Chair in Business Law at Pitt, examined corporate governance models applied at Fortune 500 companies, hundreds of Title VII discrimination cases, and proxy statements, noting that women have been ill-advised by experts, who tend to reinforce the notion that females should act like their male, executive counterparts. Instead, he suggests, women who aspire to the boardroom should focus on the decision-making processes that nominating committees employ when voting on board membership.

Branson concludes that women have to follow different paths than men in order to gain CEO status, and, as such, encourages women to be flexible and make conscious, frequent shifts in their professional behaviors and work ethics as they climb the corporate ladder.

No Seat at the Table is the latest volume in New York University Press’ Critical America Series. According to Branson, the criteria—professional, social, cultural, political—that women must meet and exhibit in order to secure executive positions is continually shifting, whereas it remains static for men. Contrary to popular belief, women still struggle to achieve the same positions that have always eluded them.

Before joining the Pitt faculty, Branson taught for more than 20 years at Seattle University. He also has been a visiting professor at a number of schools, including the University of Alabama as the Charles Tweedy Distinguished Visiting Professor, the University of Hong Kong as the Paul Hastings Distinguished Visiting Professor, Cornell University, Arizona State University, Washington University in St. Louis and universities in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Belgium, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, and England. He holds a permanent faculty appointment at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in its Masters of Law Program.

In addition to No Seat at the Table, Branson has published numerous articles and books, including the treatise Corporate Governance (Lexis Law Pub. 1993, with annual supplements), Corporate Governance Problems (Lexis Nexis, 1997), Understanding Corporate Law (Lexis Nexis, 1999, with A. Pinto), and Questions and Answers on Business Organizations (Lexis Nexis, 2003).

As an elected member of the American Law Institute since 1981, Branson was influential in framing the institute’s recommendations for corporate governance and is a leading expert on the corporate law aspects of Alaska native corporations. Most recently, he has been a USAID consultant to the Ministries of Justice in Indonesia, Ukraine, and Slovakia, advising on corporate law, capital markets law, corporate governance, and securitization issues.

Branson received the Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame and the J.D. degree from Northwestern University. He also earned an LL.M. degree at the University of Virginia, specializing in corporate law and securities regulations.