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Mass. CEO ranks double number of women, to 6

There’s good news and bad news in the latest survey of women in leadership positions at the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts.

The good news: The number of women chief executives in the state doubled from last year.

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The bad news: There are only six women chief executives, up from three in 2010.

Women’s progress in breaking through the glass ceiling remains frustratingly slow, according to the Boston Club, the women’s business group that conducts the annual survey. For every two steps forward, the club says, there’s another one back.

For instance, the share of women executives climbed to 9.6 percent this year from 8.9 percent in 2010, while women’s share of seats on boards of directors essentially held steady at slightly more than 11 percent. But both percentages are down from highs before the recent recession - women made up 11 percent of executives in 2006 and 11.5 percent of directors in 2007.

The Boston Club attributes the decline, in part, to traditionally male-dominated companies playing it safe as the economy limps along.

Lucinda Doran, chairwoman of the committee that puts out the report, said she is disappointed but not discouraged. “This is a major culture change,’’ she said. “It takes time.’’

BJ’s chief Laura Sen said she does not expect to see equality in the ranks soon, because women more often choose family over advancing their careers.

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In this year’s survey, 12 new companies moved onto the list of 100 largest public companies, based on net revenue, and three of them are run by women: Mary Puma, of the Beverly-based semiconductor equipment manufacturer Axcelis; Gail Goodman, of the e-mail marketing company Constant Contact Inc., in Waltham; and Kathryn Marinello of Stream Global Services, a call center provider in Wellesley.

Puma, who has been chief executive of Axcelis since 2002, is used to being the only woman in the room. Sometimes it works to her advantage. When Puma travels to other countries, particularly in Asia, she finds that clients know about her simply because she’s a woman in a male-dominated industry.

“You are very famous,’’ they tell her - and her high profile helps raise her company’s profile, she said.

Another of the survey’s six female chief executives is Laura Sen, who has run Westborough-based BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. for almost three years. Sen is proud that she has added five female executives to the previously all-male senior management team. But she does not expect to see equality in the ranks soon, because women more often choose family over advancing their careers.

“There is a larger pool of men who don’t have to worry about family needs,’’ said Sen, who likely won’t be included in the next survey because BJ’s was bought by private equity firms earlier this year, and its stock is no longer publicly traded.

In addition to the increase in the number of chief executives, there were other bright spots in the Boston Club’s report. For the first time in five years, a majority of the 100 companies, 51, have at least one woman executive.

Diversifying a company’s leadership can help organizations understand customers better, business leaders say. And increasing women’s presence can boost companies’ bottom lines, said William Bacic, New England managing partner for Deloitte & Touche and chairman of the Boston Club’s corporate advisory board.

Bacic cited a Deloitte program focused on promoting women that helped bring in an estimated $750 million in new business over the last three years. “There is a strong business case for having diversity on your board,’’ Bacic said.

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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