Closing The Gap

The number of women running Fortune 500 companies hits a new high

General Motors CEO Mary Barra
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

The number of women running Fortune 500 companies has hit a new record, according to this year's Fortune 500 list. Currently, there are 37 women leading Fortune 500 firms, an increase from last year's 33 women, which at the time, was a record high. 

This new addition of women is the result of several leadership changes in companies that previously made the list, in which women have taken over from a male predecessor, as well as companies passing the $5.7 billion revenue threshold to make the list this year, reports Fortune.

Of the 37 women CEOs, seven made the list for the first time. Newcomers include former Home Depot executive Carole Tome, who will become the new CEO of UPS on June 1; veteran health executive Heyward Donigan who became the CEO of Rite Aid in August 2019; former Old Navy chief Sonia Syngal who became Gap Inc.'s CEO in March 2020; Kristin C. Peck who became CEO of the animal health company Zoetis in January 2020; and Jennifer Johnson who took over her family's investment management company, Franklin Resources, from her brother in February 2020. 

Barbara R. Smith, CEO of materials company Commercial Metals, and Nazzic S. Keene, CEO of information technology company Science Applications International, made the list for the first time after bringing in a company revenue of $5.8 billion and $6.4 billion, respectively.

A few familiar names like IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney are no longer on the list after announcing they will be stepping down from their roles this year. 

Though improvements have been made around gender diversity in the C-suite, this year's list is also proof that a lot more work still needs to be done. Even with a record high of 37 female CEOs, women make up just 7.4% of the leaders on the Fortune 500 list. There are also just three women of color on the list: Gap Inc.'s Syngal, Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su and Yum China CEO Joey Wat.

Mary Winston, who was the interim CEO of Bed, Bath and Beyond, was the only black woman leading a Fortune 500 company last year. She has since been replaced by permanent CEO Mark Tritton, leaving zero black women on the list. And Geisha Williams, who was the first and only Latina woman heading a Fortune 500 company, stepped down from her role last year; now there are zero Latina women in charge of a Fortune 500 firm. 

Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate women into leadership positions, says this year's list is an "incremental victory" in the right direction, but acknowledges that a lot more progress still needs to be made. 

She emphasizes that with this incremental victory also comes "the sobering reality of the unprecedented economic and health crisis we face in this moment," in which women are being financially impacted more than men.

Hariton explains that during this pandemic, women are not only losing their jobs faster than men, but they are also losing their jobs at a time when they are trying to "[manage] child care, their households and their own emotional well-being."

Moving forward, she says, "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." This includes, she adds, having a post-Covid-19 workplace where leaders are "intentionally [doubling] down on supporting women at every level to continue to advance women in the workplace."

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