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More women pulled out chairs at board tables across major publicly traded companies in 2019, setting a record that is bound to be encouraging to up-and-coming female leaders, according to the world’s largest organization of female corporate board directors.

Nonprofit WomenCorporateDirectors released a gender diversity index that found women occupy nearly 23 percent of spaces where chief executive officers and other senior executives make decisions across Russell 3000 companies.

The new number, which demonstrates a 6.5 percent increase over four years, is an uplifting sign of the direction companies are taking to have women lead, experts say.

The fact that 42 percent of new board seats went to women between July 2018 and June 2019 for large companies shows encouraging progress but also displays room to grow, said Lakshmi Bhojraj, executive director of the Parker Center for Investment Research at Cornell University.

“The board sets a very important governance and strategic role and provides direction for the company and tackles matters of growth,” she said. “It’s important to make sure you have diversity of perspective at the table when it comes to board.”

That racial and gender diversity is making its way into boardrooms, according to the index.

Black and Asian/Pacific Islander women were quickly gaining board seats in Fortune 500 companies compared to other ethnic groups even though they still have smallest number of board seats overall.

There is a growing recognition among businesses that heterogenous perspectives and backgrounds lead to better outcomes, according to Bhojraj.

While the new data is positive, it’s still important to remember that women are often minorities in other senior positions.

The index did note that a third of all companies on the list still had only one or no women on boards. However, 60 percent of the 902 female board seats gained this year were achieved by adding board seats, not just by replacing male directors.

The findings punctuate the small number of women who work for these companies and the challenges they might face in their ascension to high-power roles, said Kate Bezrukova, associate professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management.

Contract negotiations research shows that when women are assertive at work, they are perceived as aggressive compared to male colleagues, who are often viewed as great leaders for the same behavior, she said.

These negative attitudes and assumptions about women forget about the research that shows women can change the bottom line and productivity of a company, Bezrukova said.

“Women tend to be less narcissistic than men and are driven by collective interests instead of individual ones.”

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