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Ask Catalyst Express: Women CEOs

How many corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are women?

Despite accounting for nearly half of the workforce in the United States, women are still scarce among CEOs of the largest corporations. Catalyst studies trends among women CEOs in S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.

The Current Picture: S&P 500 Companies

Women CEOs of the S&P 500

  • Catalyst tracks the current list of women CEOs in the S&P 500. Since the S&P 500 index changes constantly, we do not maintain a historical list for this group, but rather take a snapshot of the index once per year.

Pyramid: Women in S&P 500 Companies

  • The Catalyst Pyramid visually highlights the gender leadership gap at S&P 500 companies. The Pyramid shows that while women’s overall representation is close to parity, men are overrepresented within the upper tiers of the Pyramid (e.g., leadership positions, high-level management, board of director seats, CEOs).

The Historical Lens: Fortune 500 Companies

Historical List of Women CEOs of the Fortune Lists: 1972-2018

  • Fortune magazine annually ranks the largest companies in the United States by revenue. Catalyst has researched and created a list of all the Fortune women CEOs. As of January 1, 2019, there have been 73 individual women in Fortune 500 CEO roles in total. Three women (Susan Cameron, Irene Rosenfeld, and Meg Whitman) served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company twice. In total, women have served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 76 instances.
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How Women CEOs Are Selected

Out of the 76 instances in which women have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 16 were external candidates (21.1%) and 60 were internal (78.9%).

Among Fortune 500 companies, women have succeeded other women as CEO on only three occasions.

  • Anne Mulcahy served as CEO of Xerox from 2001–2009, then Ursula Burns succeeded her and served from 2009–2017.
  • Andrea Jung was CEO of Avon Products from 1999–2011, when Sheri McCoy succeeded her and served from 2012–2017.
  • Susan Cameron was CEO (for the second time) of Reynolds American from 2014 until January 1, 2017, when Debra Crew succeeded her, serving only one year (until December 31, 2017).

CEOs in Underrepresented Groups

CEOs of the Fortune 500 are overwhelmingly white, straight, and male. Women, women of color, women born outside of the United States, and LGBT women are underrepresented.

Because of the difficulty of verifying any individual's race and ethnicity, Catalyst is unable to provide specific data points around women of color and white CEOs. However, we have collected examples from reliable news sources of women of color CEOs of the Fortune 500, past and present.

  • Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corporation from 2009–2017, is the only Black woman to ever serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
  • Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon Products from 1999–2011, is of Asian descent.
  • Laura Sen, CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club from 2009–2016, is multiracial, of Irish and Chinese descent.
  • Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices since 2014, was born in Taiwan.
  • Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China Holdings since 2017, was born in China.
  • Geisha Williams, CEO of PG&E from 2017 to January 13, 2019, was the first Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) CEOs are also extremely rare.

  • Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes since August 1, 2018, is the first openly gay woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Additional Catalyst Resources

Quick Takes

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