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Number of Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 Hits All-Time Record

May 19, 2020 by Dan McCue
General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra talks with media prior to the start of the 2017 General Motors Company Annual Meeting of Stockholders at GM Global Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)

The number of women running America’s largest corporations has reached a record high with 37 of the companies on this year’s Fortune 500 being led by female CEOs, Fortune magazine announced on Monday.

The Fortune 500, which ranks America’s largest companies, has long been looked to as a reliable annual assessment of the state of U.S. business.

In recent years, the growing number of companies with female chief executives included in the ranking has been closely followed by those who examine gender diversity in the workplace and in the nation’s board rooms.

This year’s total surpasses last year’s 33 female CEOs, which itself was a record. What’s particularly notable is the recent acceleration in the number of women CEOs.

Twenty years ago, only two of the 500 companies on the list had women CEOs, and it was only four years ago that the number topped 30.

While that’s encouraging, women run just 7.4% of the 500 businesses on the ranking.

Fortune said the number of women at the helm of the 500 companies on its list is influenced by a number of factors ranging from executive leadership changes to new companies growing and making the list while others fall off.

Among this year’s new additions to the list are women who took over Fortune 500 companies from male predecessors in the past year.

These include:

  • Carol Tomé, a longtime Home Depot executive, who will begin her run as CEO of UPS on June 1.
  • Heyward Donigan, a veteran health care executive, who became CEO of Rite Aid in August 2019;
  • Sonia Syngal, who was promoted to run Gap Inc. after it walked back a plan to spin off Old Navy;
  • Kristin C. Peck, who became chief executive of the $6.3 billion animal health company Zoetis in January; and,
  • Jennifer Johnson, who took over her family business, the $5.8 billion investment manager Franklin Resources, from her brother in February.

Some women among the group of 37 are leaders of companies that broke into the Fortune 500 for the first time this year (the revenue threshold for a company to make the list was $5.7 billion).

That group includes:

  • Barbara R. Smith, CEO of $5.8 billion materials business Commercial Metals; and
  • Nazzic S. Keene, CEO of the $6.4 billion government information technology company Science Applications International.

If there’s a problem with the list, Fortune says it’s a lack of racial diversity.

Only three of the 37 are women of color: Gap Inc.’s Syngal, Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su, and Yum China CEO Joey Wat.

There are no black or Latina women among the 37, the lone black woman on last year’s list, Mary Winston, interim CEO of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, having since been replaced with a male CEO.

Fortune also noted that only seven women run Fortune 100 companies: Mary Barra, CEO of the $137 billion auto giant General Motors, runs the largest.

Several female CEOs are concentrated in retail, from Corie Barry’s Best Buy to Barbara Rentler’s Ross Stores to Laura Alber’s Williams-Sonoma, while female leadership among the Fortune 500’s tech companies remains rare, Fortune said.

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