Representation of Women Executives in Economic Development Organizations: A Longitudinal Analysis in the South

Article excerpt

Economic development organizations (EDOs) are groups of business leaders who seek to improve the climate for business in their domains through such activities as the protection of existing industries, the attraction of new industries and companies, and the management of local infrastructures. EDO memberships are dominated by the CEOs and owners of companies. As major government lobbyists, EDOs constitute an important component of the interorganizational environment within which public organizations operate (Wise, 1990), and they are among the most elite business networks in a region. Whereas many studies have investigated the extent of women's participation in positions of influence in the business community, including representation in the ranks of managers (United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1985; Wellington, 1998), memberships on corporate boards of directors (Kesner, 1988; Sweetman, 1996), status as officers of large corporations (Catalyst, 1998), and leadership of small businesses (Daily Fd Dalton, 1999; Leavitt, 1988), studies on women in the important executive networks known as EDOs are comparatively rare.

Understanding patterns of women's integration into EDOs is important for several reasons (Andre, 1995). First, women's participation at this level of meta-organization is one reflection of women's advancement through the business hierarchy. When women become leaders among leaders, they have clearly achieved a new level of acceptance and influence in the business community. EDOs, like corporate boards, are somewhat like private clubs (Driscoll & Goldberg, 1993), and the acceptance of women, or other under-represented groups, into such powerful voluntary associations has not yet been demonstrated. Second, just as women's careers and styles for networking differ from those of men, so their values with respect to priorities for economic development may differ (Aldrich, 1989; Ely, 1994; Ibarra, 1993; Powell & Mainiero, 1992). To illustrate, in the public sector, the increased representation of women in politics has led to more legislation affecting children, the elderly, health care, and the environment (Boxer, 1993). Anecdotal evidence suggests that economic development agendas of women may differ from those of men (Driscoll & Goldberg, 1993) and, in fact, that preferred agendas of women sometimes differ so significantly that women establish their own organizations parallel to the existing EDOs (Montminy, 1992).

These authors analyze women's and men's representation and networking in the East South Central, West South Central, and South Atlantic regions at the state level. In a national report of women's representation in EDOs (Andre, 1995), the regions included represented a crosssection of the national results, with the West South Central being among the regions with the strongest representation, the South Atlantic being among those with the lowest level of representation, and the East South Central being among those with mid-range representation. In that study, regional differences were significant.

This study investigates two research questions. First, it examines the hypothesis that, as women increase their overall presence in business, they will also increase their membership in EDOs. Second, it examines the extent to which women formally network among southern EDOs. In the process of investigating these questions, the study also enumerates the major EDOs in the South and the companies that have established the widest representation in the EDOs.

Method

The major private sector EDOs involved with state economic development in the East South Central, West South Central, and South Atlantic regions, as defined by the United States Bureau of the Census, were targeted for this study. Because public sector versus private sector influence is a central concern in economic development, this study focused solely on those EDOs with memberships predominantly from the private sector, e. …