Catalyst, the organization that studies, among other things, the progress of women in the workplace, released its "2006 Census of Women Corporate Officers, Top Earners, and Directors of the Fortune 500" report last month, featuring some interesting results.

Good news

  • Women in top-paying positions rose to 6.7% from 6.4% in 2005.
  • A greater number of companies had three or more female board directors.

Not-so-good news

  • Women held just 15.6% of Fortune 500 corporate officer positions, down from 16.4% in 2005.
  • The number of companies with three or more female corporate officers decreased.
  • Women held only 14.6% of all Fortune 500 board seats, compared to 14.7% in 2005.
  • Women of color held only 3.1% of director positions in 2006, down from 3.4% in 2005.
  • The number of companies with one or two female board directors decreased. In addition, more companies had no female board directors at all.

Here's another not-so-good item, one I hadn't appreciated until reading it: "Women are still more than twice as likely to hold staff positions, whereas men hold roughly an equal percentage of line and staff positions." Why does this matter? Well: "Line position experience is essential to advancement to the highest levels."

An opposing view
Last time I shared data like this, I received an opposing point of view from Elizabeth Ghaffari of Champion Boards, and I detailed that in a follow-up article. She makes some good points, including the fact that publicizing discouraging numbers can discourage women from trying to advance.          

What to do
Why does this topic matter to investors? Well, as I've reported before, some studies suggest that having more women on a board of directors can lead to better governance. A previous Catalyst study, in fact, found, "the group of companies with the highest representation of women on their senior management teams had a 35% higher ROE [return on equity] and a 34% higher [total return to shareholders] than companies with the lowest women's representation."

So next time you're flipping through your annual reports, check out those glossy photos of the boards and see how many women you spot. I did just that recently, and found:

  • Home Depot (NYSE:HD): Two women out of 13 directors (15%).
  • PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP): Three women out of 14 directors (21%), including PepsiCo's CEO, Indra Nooyi.
  • Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO): One woman out of 11 directors (9%).
  • Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX): No women out of seven directors.
  • McDonald's (NYSE:MCD): Two women out of 13 directors (15%).
  • Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ): Four women out of 12 directors (33%).
  • 3M (NYSE:MMM): Three women out of 10 directors (30%).

In Fooldom
Women have a big presence in Fooldom as well. Our personal finance service, Motley Fool Green Light, is co-headed by longtime Fool writer Dayana Yochim. Learn more about it -- and try it for free. It offers clear and succinct advice on how to spend wisely (by cluing you in to some great deals) and save and invest more effectively (via stock and fund recommendations).

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of all the companies mentioned above. 3M, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Netflix is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.