Lists of top leaders inspire bursts of disappointment

September 27, 20182 minute read

Stories in Business Insider, Fortune, Bloomberg Business Week, and on CNBC lament the number of women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list this year. Only 25 companies on the list are led by women. That adds up to 5 percent, down slightly from the 2017 total of 6.4%.

The article on profiles all 25 companies with female CEOs. After a quick analysis, AWESOME found that only one of the top 25 women on the list has been CEO for as long as a decade: Indra Nooyi, who’s stepping down in October 2018 after being CEO since 2006. A total of 11 of the women on the list took on the CEO role in the past three years and 13 others started as CEO between 2011 and 2014.

Fortune points out that the decline in female CEOs of 2018 Fortune 500 companies represents a 25% drop since last year’s list.

The Bloomberg article, titled “America’s C-Suites Keep Getting Whiter (and More Male, Too)” analyzes what may be causing women to leave once they’re hired, even at companies with diversity goals. It quotes Sallie Krawcheck, once one of Wall Street’s highest-ranking female executives who now runs Ellevest, as saying, “Middle management is where diversity goes to die.”

A story on reports on the number of female CEOs among Fortune 500 companies since 1995. While the graph shows a generally upward trend, the reversal over the past few years is disappointing.

Similarly, the list of Chicago’s Most Powerful Women in Business, published by Crain’s generated a guest editorial in that publication by Sally Blount, former dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Sally, who participated as a panelist at the 2017 AWESOME Symposium, points out in her essay titled “Too few female CEOs? How we solve it” that only one of the 37 Fortune 500 companies based in Illinois has a female CEO: Mary Dillon of Ulta Beauty. That company, which participated as an AWESOME Sponsor in both 2017 and 2018, joined the Fortune 500 for the first time this year.

Sally Blount’s article suggests what we should do. “First, we need to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce during the child-rearing years…Second, we need to make the climb less draining.” She says that in her time as Kellogg’s dean, she repeatedly heard stories from leading women about obstacles they faced. “The women who have made it to the senior ranks have withstood a lot. They have incredible fortitude and a strong desire to win, whether it be surviving numerous workplace #MeToo experiences that will never be publicly shared or blatant discrimination or only semi-implicit bias.”

AWESOME Leaders have their own ideas of what should be done to advance women, after expressing a desire to speed up the progress by focusing on actions individual leaders can take. “The AWESOME Action Agenda: 16 Ways to Make Waves and Advance Women’s Leadership” will be available on this website the week of October 1.