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.
Mary Barra – CEO, GM
Leading the pack is GM’s CEO, Mary Barra. She has been leading the automaker since January 15, 2014. Barra is the first ever female to lead an automobile manufacturer. Listed as one of the World’s Most Powerful Women, she has been part of this list for the fifth time in 2016. A visionary leader, Barra has been pushing for GM to transition to driverless technology.
Gail Boudreaux – CEO, Anthem
Gail Boudreaux is an American businesswoman and athlete. She is the CEO of Anthem, currently ranking as the second largest American company with a woman as a CEO. Boudreaux was part of the Fortune list of Most Powerful Women from 2008 to 2014. Before taking over Anthem in November 2017, Boudreaux has been in the health industry sector since 1983.
Ginni Rometty – CEO, IBM
Born Virginia Rometty, IBM’s first female CEO is bent on positioning IBM as “The Incumbent Disruptor.” Rometty is spearheading the company’s transition from being a hardware company to a cloud computing and analytics business. As a leader, Rometty believes that a CEO’s most important job is looking out for the long term and to keep the company abreast with the changing world.
Indra Nooyi – Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo
Indra Nooyi was named President and CEO in 2006. However, even before taking the role, she has already led the company’s global strategy and growth. Some of the notable undertakings of Nooyi are the acquisition of Tropicana in 1998 and the merger of Quaker Oats Company and acquisition of Gatorade. She has been recognized by Fortune as one of the Most Powerful Women in business for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2013, she received the recognition as one of the “25 Greatest Global Living Legends” by NDTV.
Marilyn Hewson – CEO, Lockheed Martin
In 2015, Marilyn Hewson was recognized by Forbes as the 20th Most Powerful Women in the world. Hewson has been with the company since 1983 and has held a variety of positions before being elected as CEO on January 2013. In 2017, Harvard Business Review listed her as one of the Best Performing CEO in the World. She believes that a leader is most effective when people are thriving. People are able to contribute when its leader is clear and decisive, has integrity of character, compassionate, and innovative.
Safra Catz – CEO, Oracle
As of April 2017, Catz is the highest paid female CEO of any US company. She was born in Holon, Israel, to Jewish parents. Catz have been credited for being the prime mover of Oracle’s efforts to acquire rival PeopleSoft in 2005, which is a $10.3 Billion takeover. She recognizes the gap when it comes to women in leadership, stating “The most significant barrier to female leadership is the actual lack of females in leadership. The best advice I can give to women is to go out and start something, ideally their own businesses. If you can’t see a path for leadership within your own company, go blaze a trail of your own.”
Phebe Novakovic – CEO, General Dynamics
A former member of the United States Department of Defense, Phebe Novakovic joined General Dynamics in 2001. She became the president and COO in 2012. Relatively media-shy, Novakovic stays under the radar. When asked why this is the case, her response was “It’s a conscious decision. Performance speaks for itself and, absent performance, you really don’t have anything to say. Results are, at the end of the day all that really do matter.”
Tricia Griffith – CEO, Progressive
Tricia Griffith was fresh out of college when she started working with Progressive in 1988. About three decades later, Griffith was tapped as the company’s chief executive in 2016. Griffith is a staunch believer of immersed leadership. She shares that, “A leader should never stop listening to people at all levels of the company. Be physically out and about, so that you always have your finger on the pulse and know, at the ground level, the truth of how people are feeling.”
Lynn Good – President and CEO, Duke Energy
Lynn Good, an Ohio native, sits as Duke Energy’s Chairman, President, and CEO. Fortune lists her as the 11th Most Powerful Woman in Business. Duke Energy is currently at the forefront of embracing new technologies and adopting better policies in caring for the environment. Under Good’s leadership, Duke Energy has been recognized by Forbes as America’s Best Employers. Fortune also bestowed the company the recognition as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies.
Michelle Gass – CEO, Kohl’s
Michelle Gass will be a driving force in resuscitating Kohl’s from the industrywide slump. Gass has replaced Kevin Mansell in May 2018. She is bringing with her an extensive retail and marketing experience from Procter & Gamble and Starbucks. She also hopes to bring in to Kohl’s the kind leadership that trusts on people’s collective ability.
Geisha Williams – CEO, PG&E Corp.
Geisha Williams is the president and CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric Company since March 2017. Her family migrated from Cuba to the US in 1967 when she was five years old. Williams believed that the power of mentorship helped her get to the C-Suite. She said that she did not think she is going to be a CEO, but the thought that someone believes in what you can do made her work hard.
Margaret Keane – CEO and President, Synchrony Financial
Margaret Keane has been the CEO and President of Synchrony Financial since February 2014. Under her leadership, the company has become a leading example of an organization that champions diversity. According to Keane, having employees with diverse backgrounds and experience makes a company stronger.
Deanna Mulligan – CEO, Guardian Life Insurance
Deanna Mulligan has been the CEO of Guardian Life Insurance since July 2011. With Mulligan’s leadership, she steered the company’s continued growth by adopting artificial intelligence-based technologies and pursuing a different approach to talent management. She has been awarded the 2017 Excellence in Public Policy Award by the Committee for Economic Development.
Barbara Rentler – CEO, Ross Stores
Since becoming CEO of Ross Stores on June 2014, Barbara Rentler has been continuously delivering results. Despite the intense competition from rivals, Ross Stores has hit annual records on revenue and profit each year. She succeeded former CEO Michael Balmuth who sees Rentler as a “gifted merchant, a leader who has been part of Ross Store’s growth for 28 years.” Barbara Rentler ranks number 29 in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women for 2017.
Anna Manning – CEO, Reinsurance Group of America
Anna Manning assumed the CEO role on January 2017. She helped the Reinsurance Group of America grow its revenue by 11%. This makes the year 2016 as the company’s most successful year in its 44-year history. Anna Manning ranked number 44 in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
Vicki Hollub – CEO, Occidental Petroleum
CEO of Occidental Petroleum since 2016, Vicki Hollub is the first woman to lead a major American oil company. She hails from Birmingham, Alabama. Her first order of business was to reduce cost while increasing the output. Hollub was able to turn in profit for the company. Her 35-year career has been devoted to working for equal and fair chance for women to climb the corporate ladder.
Kathryn Marinello – CEO, Hertz Global Holdings
Kathryn Marinello took over Hertz Global Holdings leadership on January 2017. Under her leadership, Hertz received a number of awards including the 2017 FlyerTalk Awards and 2017 Corporate Responsibility (CR) Champion Award by the Council of Corporate Responsibility in partnership with the National Diversity Council. She has been described as a determined leader focused on execution and high performance.
Mary Laschinger – CEO, Veritiv Corporation
Mary Laschinger has been at the helm of Veritiv Corporation and has helped steer the company to be a Fortune 500 company. Veritiv is a leading North American business-to-business distributor of packaging, facility solutions, print and publishing products and services, and a provider of logistics and supply chain management solutions. She has been in the supply chain industry since age 21. As a leader, she believes that a leader should not stop learning and never put themselves in a position that they know it all.
Michele Buck – CEO, The Hershey Company
Michele Buck has been CEO of The Hershey Company since March 2017. Buck has a diverse set of experience. She started working early at the age of 10, delivering newspaper, selling products door-to-door. Her business career was spent in various roles, from being a plant manager to a senior food executive. She also shares that, “The key is being the best version of yourself as a leader. Be the best you.”
Joey Wat – CEO, Yum China
Yum China is an American-Chinese Fortune 500 fastfood restaurant company incorporated in the United States and is co-headquartered in Shanghai and Plano, Texas. At the helm of this US$6.8 billion company is Joey Wat. Her advice to young professionals when looking at a job move is to view it from a holistic point of view. Joey Wat further adds, “I look at the industry (as to) whether I like it, and then whether this is the position where I can get the training, exposure, mentorship. (I look at) whether this company is a good company, whether it can be a good (performer), and then, of course salary.”
Patricia Poppe – CEO, CMS Energy
Patricia Poppe has been the CEO of CMS Energy since July 2016. Poppe shared that her ability to ask a lot of questions and to learn quickly as her greatest traits. She also believes that in helping other women succeed, she is able to pay it forward. She further adds, “Those women who came before me taught me, and I need to pay it forward.” She was also named as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in 2016 by Crain’s Detroit Business.
Kathy Mazzarella – CEO, Graybar Electric
Kathy Mazzarella has been the CEO of Graybar since June of 2012. Even before joining the Fortune 500 list, Mazzarella has been earning accolades in the business circle. She has been part of St. Louis “40 Under 40” award in 2000 and the “Most Influential Businesswomen in St. Louis” award in 2004. Recently, she was recognized by Owler as one of the Top Rated CEOs for 2017, ranking at number 7.
Beth Mooney – CEO, KeyCorp
On May 2011, Beth Mooney was named as CEO of KeyCorp, making her the first woman to be CEO of a top-20 US bank. Her rise to the top was met with a lot of challenges. After college, she took the only job available at First City National Bank in Houston, a bank secretary. Through sheer hard work, changing jobs nine times in sixteen years, her persistence paid off. Her advice to women, “Don’t hold back. Say yes to both opportunities and challenges.”
Mary Dillon – CEO, Ulta Beauty
Mary Dillon has been the CEO of Ulta Beauty since July 2013. Dillon tapped the e-commerce segment of the business. This move helped increase sales by 40% per quarter. Ulta Beauty has been surpassing specialty stores such as Bluemercury and Sephora. They are also projected to reach their 1200 stores target, making this company as the 10th Fastest Growing Company in the US. And much of this excitement has been inspired by its CEO Mary Dillon.