You'll find plenty of men among corporate directors and executives today, but that doesn't mean women have been shut out entirely. And as more women take their place among the corporate elite, it's interesting to take a look at how they're getting there.

Elizabeth Ghaffari of recently reported on the paths that women on corporate boards in California took to get to their positions. Many people might have assumed in the past that a woman's best strategy was to work in managing a nonprofit organization, but that doesn't seem to be the case today. Here are the six paths studied, and the percent of women who used them to make it into the boardroom:

  • Corporate: 42%
  • Entrepreneurial: 20%
  • Government: 13%
  • Investment: 10%
  • Nonprofit: 8%
  • Academic: 8%

In other words, the most reliable path appears to be the most obvious one, climbing the corporate ladder from within. That wasn't enough, though, for most female directors. The vast majority, 89%, actually cited two paths, often complementing their corporate work with nonprofit work or entrepreneurial activities, for example.

Digging deeper, some might expect more women directors to come from retail backgrounds or the consumer products sector, but that didn't hold up in Ghaffari's research, either. Here are the specialties that were deemed most useful by the surveyed women:

  • Finance: 27%
  • Technology: 25%
  • Law: 14%
  • Retail: 11%
  • Medical: 7%
  • All other: 16%

Still a tough road
You may now have a better handle on how to get to the top, but it still won't be easy. According to a recent Fortune magazine article, 9% of the companies in the S&P 500 still have all-male boards, and only 16% of board members are women. But according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart, 70% of the 500 firms are seeking female directors.

If you're a woman looking to break into the upper echelons of corporate governance, consider looking at some of these companies, which currently have no women on their boards:

  • Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
  • Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC)
  • Countrywide Financial (NYSE:CFC)
  • National Semiconductor (NYSE:NSM)
  • News Corp. (NYSE:NWS)
  • Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA)
  • Zimmer Holdings (NYSE:ZMH)

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