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Female Leaders: Lots of Talk, Little Progress – Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO), Facebook Inc. (FB)

Female leaders have made big news lately. Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)‘s Marissa Mayer holds the formidable task of getting the old-school Internet company back on its feet, but she’s roused recent controversy with her in-office mandate. Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB)‘s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has just published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which discusses female leadership in corporate America.

Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)

Mayer and Sandberg are high-profile female leaders, and whether they’re generating good press or bad press, they’re receiving big press at the moment. Regardless, despite victories and lime lights, the progress of females and minorities into the highest levels of corporate America remains lacking.

Progress and problems
A Calvert Investments report released this week reveals that despite some progress since 2010, the S&P 100 still lags in factors related to women and minorities achieving positions in corporate America’s boardrooms and top management positions.

Calvert’s president and CEO, Barbara Krumsiek, acknowledged some important progress in the area. Still, key analysis points still underlined some glaring discrepancies. Although women now hold 19% of S&P 100 board positions, they still only represent 8% of the highest paid executives.

Although 98 of the analyzed companies have female directors and 86 have minority directors, only 37 have minority women on their boards.

On the other hand, heartening signs of progress included increasing numbers of companies with diversity initiatives, best practices, and outreach efforts to recruit women and minorities. Even better, 96 of the 100 companies have policies forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation, and increasingly offer domestic partner benefits.

The report analyzed 10 diversity criteria, and specific results may be surprising to diversity-minded investors. Too-big-to-fail banks have and continue to face plenty of flak for management styles, and to put it kindly, Wall Street and huge financiers haven’t historically been known for female friendliness. Still, both JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) ranked among the top five when it comes to diversity.

On the other hand, the bottom five included Berkshire Hathaway, well known for its excellent management including Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett. eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY) also came in on the bottom of the rankings, even if memory brings to mind its longtime former female CEO Meg Whitman, who’s currently working hard to turn Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)‘s corporate ship around.

There’s a new sheriff in town… or not
The aforementioned Mayer and Sandberg have sparked copious conversation about what having women in leadership positions should be all about — and what it still isn’t.

From what I’ve gleaned so far from media (and I have yet to read the book), Sandberg’s book encourages women to “lean in” to achieve in corporate settings instead of holding themselves back from taking career-building steps. She’s not downplaying the difficulties and pitfalls women face, and she has been a major proponent of women’s increased presence in the workforce. However, she has also been criticized for views like this: “A woman needs to combine niceness with insistence… I understand the paradox of advising women to change the world by adhering to its biased rules and expectations. I know it is not a perfect answer but a means to a desirable end.”

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