Number of female Fortune 500 CEOs at all time high

A record number of women CEOs make this year’s Fortune 500 list

Though the numbers remain very slim compared to men and diversity remains problematic with just three women of colour making the list
Fortune 500

A record number of women CEOs are on this year’s Fortune 500 list though the numbers remain very slim compared to male leaders. 

The number of number of women-led companies hit 37 this year, up from last year’s record 33 – a 12 percent rise. It means women are leading only 7.4 percent of the largest corporations in the United States by total revenue. Twenty years ago, the number was just two.

The female CEO at the top of the list, at number 18, was Mary Barra, CEO of auto giant General Motors, worth $137 billion, with 164,000 employees. She was followed, at number 29, by Gail Boudreaux of healthcare company Anthem, and Carol Tomé of UPS delivery company at number 43 on the list. Tomé’s company has the second highest number of employees of all the female CEOs, at 377,640.

The rest of the women CEOs are concentrated towards the bottom of the list. Of the 37 women on the Fortune 500 list, only seven made the Fortune 100 list. 

Lorraine Hariton told CNBC that this new record is a “incremental victory” but says we can’t relax.

“With more women CEOs in the Fortune 500, we need to be proactive to create more equitable, inclusive and fulfilling opportunities and workplaces for everyone,” she said.

Hariton is president and CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit that advocates for more women in leadership positions.

The Fortune 500 list was first published in 1955 and since then, has been closely observed as an indicator of gender diversity among C-suite positions across the US.

Several factors impact the number of female CEOs on the list, including changes to the leadership in a company, new entries from companies expanding and making it on the list, or shrinking to fall off. A company needs to meet the revenue threshold of $5.7 billion to make the list. 

Two companies with female CEOs broke into the list for the first time this year, including materials business Commercial Metals, lead by Barbara R. Smith and Science Applications International’s Nazzic S. Keene, who leads the government information technology company worth $6.4 billion.

Five female CEOs on the list took over companies that were previously led by men. These included Carol Tomé of UPS, Heyward Donigan of pharmacy corporation Rite Aid, Kristin C. Peck of animal health company Zoetis and Sonia Syngal of the clothing brand Gap Inc.

Syngal is only one of three women of colour on the list. The Stanford University graduate was born in India before emigrating to Canada, then to the US. The CEO of Advanced Micro Devices is a Taiwan-born business executive and electrical engineer and MIT alumni.

Lisa Su leads the multinational semiconductor company that develops computer processors, a position she’s held since 2014. Her company came in at 448 on the list. Last month, Su was elected as a new member to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Joey Wat is CEO of fast-food restaurant company Yum China, a position she’s held since 2018. The former president of KFC China heads the Shanghai headquartered company that employees over 450,000 people.

Of the companies on the list where the founder is also CEO, none were women. Ventas, a healthcare real estate capital provider, had the smallest number of employees of the female-lead companies, employing just 516 people.

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