The Fortune 500 list for 2020 is out, and a distinguishing feature in the list is the number of female CEOs as compared to their previous lists. The number of women running the largest corporations in America has hit an all-time high.
The number of female CEOs on the list this year is 37. This means that women make up 7.4% of the Fortune 500 businesses. This is higher than last year’s 33 women on the list, which itself was a record-breaking number until then. In 2000, for perspective, the number of women on the Fortune 500 list was just 2.
What Are The Gendered Trends On The List
All the women leaders became CEOs of their organisations only in the last decade, 20 of them post-2017. 4 of these women became CEOs of their companies only in 2020.
A large portion of the female CEOs are concentrated at the bottom of the Fortune 500 – the smaller companies. There are only 7 women among the top 100 companies – Mary Barra, CEO of the auto giant General Motors, being from the largest one.
This could mean several things. It could mean smaller businesses are more open to female leadership. It could also mean larger businesses are still not comfortable with a woman being at the helm.
Many of the female CEOs are also concentrated in the retail sector – cosmetics and beauty products like Ulta Beauty, kitchen wares and home-furnishing like Williams-Sonoma, and clothing and department stores like Gap Inc., Kohl’s, Ross Stores and J. C. Penny. These are all perceived as traditionally “feminine” areas, with a largely female target audience in mind.
Female leadership in the corporate sector has improved but is still low and remains rare in tech companies – both areas traditionally perceived as more “masculine” and historically dominated by men.
A bias that seems to persist even with the number of women on the list increasing, is racial diversity. Of the 37 women, only 3 – Sonia Syngal of Gap Inc., Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices, and Joey Watt of Yum China – are women of colour.
What Are The Policies Of The Women-Run Companies On The List?
A lot of the companies with female CEOs have very comprehensive reports that pledge to ensure and encourage diversity and inclusivity.
General Motors, for example, pledges diversity from the board room to the plant floor. According to their company reports, “GM views diversity and inclusion as a strength, based on our ability as an organization to recognize, value and draw upon unique perspectives to help drive innovation.” They are the first and only automotive company to be run by a woman CEO. Women comprise nearly half of their Board of Directors and they are among the top 25 companies globally in employment of multicultural women.
At Best Buy, women make a majority of the leadership. Best Buy was honoured in 2020 for diversity leadership by Forbes, Human Rights Campaign, and Bloomberg. They’ve also signed the “ParityPledge”, according to which they will interview at least one qualified female candidate for each open position – vice president and higher – including the board and the C-suites.
On the other hand, a female led company like Oracle – 82nd on the Fortune 500 list – is currently facing a gender wage gap lawsuit after claims of unequal pay from over 4000 women.
Celebrate This Win – But Don’t Let It Fool You Into Thinking This Is The End
37 out of 500 CEOs is not a great number – it exposes starkly unfair representation, gender inequality, and lack of inclusivity in the top companies.
Companies need to adopt and execute policies that ensure equality and diversity right from their leadership teams to their workforce.
But it is a record-breaking number of female CEOs in a history of much poorer numbers. It’s clear that the need for progress is slowly but surely being understood, accepted, and acted upon.
We have a long way to go, but for now, this is a major win for gender equality and empowering women everywhere.
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