Women CEOs in America Report is the first of its kind overview of the positioning of women leaders.
To build it, Women Business Collaborative (WBC), an alliance organization dedicated to building a movement to rapidly change the numbers of women in leadership positions, teamed up with two of its partners: C200, a global nonprofit for women business leaders, and Catalyst, the global nonprofit that accelerates women’s leadership. We are working together to highlight the progress and opportunity for continued advancement in promoting women CEOs in businesses of all types. Our organizations are focused on driving women CEO leadership, so we celebrate the accelerating pace of change at the highest levels and call on all women business organizations and other business organizations to join us in changing the numbers of women CEOs.
To assess where we are now, this report shares both the numbers and model profiles of women CEOs and tells the story of women CEO leadership. Drawing on data from Fortune 500, S&P 500, Russell 3000, and private companies, we highlight women CEOs running public and private companies. Private companies make up a crucial sector that rarely gets the attention it deserves. This report seeks to rectify that. We also profile women entrepreneurs and women CEOs of family businesses running companies over $500 million in revenue. The additional material showcases leading women CEOs in the tech and media industries, and large non-profit organizations. We include data and economic perspectives from experts throughout the report and have included an assessment of the executive suite pipeline to assure the upward mobility to CEO roles.
What is the status of Women CEOs in America?
We share a belief in the transformative power of free enterprise to effect change. Representation matters, and what happens in the private sector can drive positive trends throughout the rest of the world. Now more than ever, businesses have an obligation to model best practices. Though things are changing, widening demographics beyond the traditional set of white male leaders, it’s not changing quickly enough. Women held 51.5% of all management, professional, and related occupations in 2018, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but women still lag considerably in the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. The CEOs and executive leaders of corporate America wield immense and growing power, but the Fortune 500 shows that women hold only 7.8%1 of those CEO positions. Women of color hold less than a single percent overall of Fortune 500 CEO positions.2 In the Russell 3000 Index, according to Equilar and the Wall Street Journal, only 26% of the 307 companies named women as CEOs.3
What will drive the change toward more women CEOs?
Building pipelines of executive talent is a crucial step. Most organizations are working hard to hire and retain talented women and help them move up the ladder toward success. The percentage of women is generally strong at mid-level but requires building opportunities for women to act as CFO or COO, or in other roles with significant P&L responsibility. Improving diversity at the highest levels will require men and women advocates, boards with a focus to improve gender diversity for the CEO slots, and search firms with a laser focus on calling for gender diversity at leadershship levels. Their focus must be the pipeline to the executive suites and then to CEO positions.
We need women in senior leadership who have opportunities to move up, not out. When women lack a path to the executive suite, they are more likely to step out of the line of succession, diminishing succession potential for CEO positions. At the same time, boards of directors are trending in the right direction. As of September 2020, many boards are focused on appointing women and women of color, helping to broaden the pool of talent within organizations.4 The time is ripe for gender diversity in leadership.
Advocates and sponsors are committing to change
Business is mobilizing to build a more diverse and inclusive environment. When women are positioned at the top of an organization, they help themselves and each other. Many women CEOs reach back to support other top women. Women CEOs champion other women and grow the numbers of women on the executive team. Credit Suisse found that female CEOs are 50 percent more likely than male CEOs to have a female CFO, and 55 percent more likely to have women running business units. Executive teams with more than 30% women are more likely to outperform those with fewer or no women.5 Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi shares, “Don’t just stand for the success of other women – insist on it.” Strong male leaders are also endorsing women and sponsoring them as CEOs. Search firms have become sensitive to presenting CEOs slates that include strong, diverse women candidates. The bottom line is that the more women CEOs there are, the more men and women changemakers are in leadership roles. We need to focus on the whole pipeline, including the CEO role. The balance of corporate power will improve with women at the forefront of corporate CEO leadership, running subsidiaries, and running strong entrepreneurial companies.
The opportunity is now
There is an immense pool of talent in the world, as women continue to succeed in business at all levels. It is time for companies across all sectors to advocate for and advance great women, particularly, women of color to CEO positions. Gender equality should continue to be a priority for boards as they fill positions at the corporate CEO level. As businesses across sectors look ahead to 2025, we must redouble our efforts to grow inclusive C-Suite representation. While we continue to demand more gender parity in the executive suite, we celebrate the changemakers who are already leading, listening, thinking, innovating, and caring for the advancement of their companies and the world. And though we acknowledge the strength of these women leaders, we remind ourselves that the work is not yet complete.
A call to action
Our Women CEOs in America Report is only the beginning of our commitment to supporting women in the CEO leadership position. We ask corporate America to work with us to collectively accelerate the following goals set by C200 and Catalyst in collaboration with WBC:
- Women constitute 15% of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 CEO roles vs 7.8% currently
- 30% of women executive candidates assessed for CEO roles and of these, 25% are women of color
- 25% of candidates assessed for C-Suite roles are women
- 10% of female CEOs are women of color
- 8% of women occupying the C-Suite have substantial P&L responsibility
- Full gender parity in the C-Suite vs. 20% currently
- 30% of candidates assessed for C-Suite roles are women
- 25% of all women in the C-Suite are women of color by 2030
- 17% of women occupying the C-Suite have substantial P&L responsibility
- 30% increase in women entrepreneurs running companies with revenue of $500,000,000
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