(Bloomberg) -- Women with CEO aspirations might want to head to the state of Maryland for the best shot at becoming a corporate suite executive.
For the third straight year, women in Maryland finished highest in the annual Bloomberg News U.S. Gender-Equality Leadership Ranking. The index comprises five equally-weighted categories covering business ownership, women in legislatures, advanced-degree attainment, six-figure compensation and corporate governance. Maryland was followed by Oregon and Rhode Island.
The five states with the weakest ratings in the index were Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Mississippi.
In a separate Gender-Equality Ranking measuring basic rights for women, Vermont placed first for the second straight year, while Louisiana remained the lowest-rated state. The ranking measured five categories: pay, labor-force participation, education, health-insurance coverage and poverty levels. Rounding out the top five were Minnesota, Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts while Idaho, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi held the bottom spots just ahead of Louisiana.
In the Leadership gauge, Oregon moved up four spots to finish second for the first time. Vermont and New Jersey also performed well in this measure, jumping eight and five spots, respectively, into the top 10. Idaho’s ranking suffered the biggest decline with an 11 spot drop.
In the Equality segment, Nebraska surged six places in two indexes and its No. 12 ranking in the basic rights index placed the Cornhusker State highest among those going for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Wisconsin, which flipped from Democrat to Republican in the last presidential election, fell six spots, the most of any state, dropping to 18th.
Maryland and Massachusetts, as expected, finished in the top five in both the leadership and equality rankings.
These placements were "not surprising" according to Harvard Economics professor Claudia Goldin. Maryland’s proximity to the District of Columbia means it’s near a concentration of educated people who live and work in the capital, and Massachusetts boasts a highly educated population, Goldin said.
Massachusetts, home to Harvard, Tufts and Brandeis University among others, had the highest female share of degree holders. Maryland was buoyed by a best-in-category showing in incomes, with women comprising one third of those earning at least $100,000.
The South consistently ranked at the bottom of each index generally because wages are lower there than in other parts of the country, according to Goldin.
"Anyplace where earnings are lower is gonna do worse even as women are doing really well," Goldin said. "That’s just the fact that this isn’t being adjusted by cost of living."
Oregon had the highest share of businesses owned by women at 43 percent. West Virginia ranked second with 41 percent, just above Washington. West Virginia has been hurt by the decline of the coal mining industry, with the result that women have filled the void, said Paula Jean Swearengin, a Senate candidate for West Virginia.
"Because of economic conditions in the state a lot of women are stepping up to the plate to make sure we get out of the economic hole we are in," said Swearengin. "Appalachian women are really resilient."
North Dakota and South Dakota ranked 49th and 50th at about 30 percent each.
Women in Arizona and Nevada accounted for four in 10 representatives in the state legislature – compared to one in 10 in Wyoming.
Other category winners and losers included Florida, which scored best in the gender pay ratio. Poverty among women was lowest in New Hampshire and highest in Mississippi.
Wealth equality ratios, however, may not be a good indicator of how well-off women are, according to Goldin.
"If I go to a state where everyone is making the minimum wage, women are going to look really good," said Goldin. "So it’s really useless."
Bloomberg has conducted the gender-equality ranking for three years. The 2018 index was fairly static compared to last year, with only a handful of states moving up or down by more than five places.
There is a separate Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index inaugurated in 2017 that assesses and compares individual companies.
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