These Are the Industries Where Women Are Making the Most C-Suite Progress

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The business world suffers from massive, persistent gender gaps in leadership, but there is positive news about progress towards closing those gaps.

Exclusive new Equilar analysis of the Russell 3000 found accelerating growth of women in leadership roles. Growth of women in executive roles accelerated to an average 6.9% pace between 2016 and 2021, up from a 3.8% growth rate in the prior five years. That growth led women to hold nearly 14% of named executive officer roles in 2021 (that refers to the top five most highly-paid executives). Having half of the population hold one-seventh of executive positions sounds low, but it is indeed progress, up from women holding 8% of those roles back in 2010.

Progress is not equal across industries — and some sectors show lagging growth. Energy has the lowest representation of women among named executive officers, at 9%. The sector with the second-worst representation is financial services, with 12% of those top jobs held by women, along with the second-lowest growth rate of all the sectors. (This may be surprising considering the presence of high-profile leaders such as Citi CEO Jane Fraser.)

The biggest growth sectors for female representation over the past decade have been basic materials and industrials, where women's share of named executive positions has doubled or better (materials from 6% to 14% and industrials from 6% to 12%). The sectors that have the highest representation of women at the top are utilities — 21% of leadership is female — and health care, which has 16% female leadership.  

Notably, women are seeing greater gains in certain roles — and the biggest progress is being made at the very top. The percentage of female CEOs more than doubled from about 2% in 2010 to over 5.5% in 2021. In contrast, the positions of CFOs, treasurers and finance VPs saw much smaller growth in their female ranks, by 47%, 41%, and 56% respectively. This could be a potential red flag for the pipeline of female CEOs, as those finance roles traditionally lead to the highest management positions.

Of the 37 female CEOs who were appointed to run Russell 3000 companies in 2021 and 2022 (so far), just under half held C-suite roles (CEO, CFO or COO) at their company or outside companies immediately prior to taking the helm. The others were presidents, EVPs or other positions. Only one of the newly-named CEOs is a founder of her company — Mary Fedewa, of Store Capital, and she was promoted from the COO role last April. 

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