What do the companies Toyota, Zale, Bulgari, Crocs, and Fiat have in common? These globally recognized brands market aggressively to women, even rely on women for the majority of their business, and yet have no women on their boards of directors.

With many highly publicized statistics now indicating that women make up the majority of the U.S.'s work force and hold a majority of management positions, it is easy to forget that, even in the most progressive economies, women remain largely excluded from the upper echelon of the business world. See some of the top global brands without women on their boards of directors here:

In The End of Men, the July/August cover story of The Atlantic, pioneering biologist Ronald Ericsson, a self-styled cowboy in a lab coat, admitted that in recent years he had come to reject his controversial ideas about the innate superiority of men. He explained that currently, "Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of 'em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way--these females are going to leave us males in the dust."

In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Nicolas Kristof, explained that while in many countries women are less likely than men to attend school, "these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school."

Studies have shown that high school girls in the U.S. earn higher GPAs than their male peers and are more likely to gain admittance to societies and clubs that recognize academic achievement. In the U.S., women have also outpaced men when it comes to earning college degrees. The ratio is now 3:2.

The shattering of so many glass ceilings highlights the persistence of others. The remarkable success of this new generation of women has not yet translated into a major boost in the presence of women in the highest levels of the business world. Studies have shown that women hold only 12% of board seats at major U.S. companies. More than 40% of the world's 4,000 largest companies have not appointed even one female member to their boards. Only about 80 of those boards are chaired by female directors. And only one has appointed a majority female board. One of 4,000.

In some countries, the gender disparity in the boardroom is particularly pronounced. In Italy, for instance, 2/3 of all companies have no women on their boards. In Japan, no major company has appointed more than two female board members. Almost half of all major U.K. corporations have no women on their boards.

In a recent interview on BBC, Cherie Blair, the high-profile wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, explained that "this issue of women on boards has been around for some time." At a U.N. Conference in New York, on International Women's Day, Mrs. Blair told delegates that it would be hard for them to say that they "believe in equality when on [their] boards there are no women."

The challenge for women is that gaining admittance to corporate boards remains something of an inside job. In order to be elected by shareholders, candidates have to be nominated to stand for election by current board members or by an activist investor. Potentially impeding the process is the fact that almost 90% of the 1700 largest U.S. companies have nominating committees that are chaired by male board members.

"Data for this article was provided by GovernanceMetrics International."

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