Women at the Rein: Female CEOs Leading Fortune 500 Companies

Thirty-two female CEOs made it to the list of 2017 Fortune 500, making this an all-time high. Women as business leaders are undeniably making progress in taking C-suite roles. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg agrees, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will be just leaders.” The number paints a promising outlook.

However, this number dropped to 24 in June 2018. This was due to a number of resignations by prominent female CEOs last year. This includes Campbell Soup Co.’s Denise Morrison, Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman, Mondelez’s Irene Rosenfeld, and Avon’s Sheri McCoy.

Female CEOs, Breaking Glass Barriers and Conquering Glass Cliffs

With these fluctuations, the share of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 has been reduced to 25%. Denise Morrison’s stay lasted seven years; Meg Whitman and Irene Rosenfeld were CEOs for six years; and Avon’s Sheri McCoy leadership only lasted five years. According to the study from Pavle Sabic, director of market development at S&P Capital IQ, tenure for female CEO runs for four years compared with male CEO’s tenure of six years.

While the difference of two years in tenure may not be that much, this data underscores a growing trend for women leaders in the workforce—the “glass cliff.” The term was coined in 2004 by British professors Michelle K. Ryan and Alexander Haslam of the University of Exeter. The phenomenon describes the tendency of organizations to appoint a female CEO during times of crisis in contrast with appointing male leaders in times of success. Academics are attempting to understand this newly evolved beast hoping to shed light on the reasons why female leaders end up standing at the edge of the cliff.

Essentially, the phenomenon of the glass cliff has surfaced while women are still emerging from the glass barriers. Since Katherine Graham’s stint as the World’s First Female CEO in 1972, there were only 60 female CEOs included in the Fortune 500 list—a meager 1.32%.  The reason is still the same. There are few opportunities for women to climb up the leadership ladder because of deeply ingrained gender biases. Women are still perceived as weak; hence, the need to prove their worth through performance. Additionally, women are expected to lean back along the way because of child-rearing and family issues. These underlying reasons for gender bias have been analyzed, dissected, and scrutinized ad infinitum. But the progress is still slow and arduous.

Despite these realities, seeing female CEOs take the rein should be celebrated.  Here are the 2018 Fortune 500’s female CEOs.

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