I recently wrote about how having more women on boards of directors might lead to better governance. Well, someone wrote in to object, offering some good food for thought. That someone was Elizabeth Ghaffari of championboards.com. She began by asking, "If every year I reported how few women went into publishing, how few women led publishing corporations, do you think women might get the idea that it's not too friendly a forum for their career expectations?" She then said that the same thing is happening when various parties keep reporting on how few women are on Fortune 500 boards of directors: "every year, the same depressing data."

Ms. Ghaffari also offered some data:

  • In the past 10 years, the number of women added to top Fortune boards of directors equaled 227, versus a decline in the number of men on those boards by 872.
  • In the past 12 months alone, almost 260 women have been added to U.S. corporate boards of directors, the majority of them on smaller firms -- not the Fortune 500 or 1000.
  • The women who do serve on top corporate boards tell us that it is not women on nominating committees that get women named to boards, because that would smack of "a woman's agenda" rather than "the company's or all the shareholders' agenda." What gets women on boards is pure and simple: competence, competence, competence. (That's also what helps corporate returns on investment.)

These are duly noted, and appreciated, but I'm afraid that I still find the negative side of the story important: According to a recent Catalyst report, "women held only 14.7% of all Fortune 500 board seats. Among the Fortune 500 companies, 53 still had no women on their boards, 182 had one woman, 189 had two, and only 76 had three or more women directors."

Look on the bright side
Ghaffari isn't off-base, though. It is worth paying attention to all the positives, such as the gradual increase in representation by women. Here are a few recent appointments, for example:

  • After a reorganization into three operating units, Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) is moving its CFO, Susan Decker, into the top spot of its advertising and publishing unit. A search for a new CFO is underway, and BusinessWeek magazine recently speculated that Decker may be in line for Chairman Terry Semel's job one day.
  • In November, 25 women were appointed to boards of directors, including the boards of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), BEA Systems (NASDAQ:BEAS), Lumera (NASDAQ:LMRA), and Nortel (NYSE:NT). This is up 25% over last year's levels, per newsonwomen.com.
  • This year, the reins of agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), were handed to Patricia Woertz, formerly of Chevron (NYSE:CVX).

In Fooldom
Women have a growing presence in Fooldom, as well. Our new personal finance service, Motley Fool GreenLight, is co-headed by longtime Fool writer Dayana Yochim. Learn more about it -- and try it for free.

What do you think of all this? Share your thoughts on women in the business world on our Women & Investing discussion board.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.