Female CEOs are not leading the industries you’d expect.

Vestive Staff
Jun 5 · 3 min read

Industries with the most female CEOs? Defense contractors and utility companies.

Two-thousand eighteen may have been the “Year of the Woman” in the US Congress, but the same cannot be said about US corporations. Just 5 percent of the top 500 public companies in the US are led by a woman, including just two women of color.

Among the largest 500 companies in the US, the industries with the most female CEOs may not be the ones you expect: defense contractors and utility companies. Both industries have four women CEOs at the helm — rates far higher than the national average.

Data: Catalyst, Women CEOs of the S&P 500 (May 1, 2019). *Including Leanne Caret, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space, and Security

So why do these industries have higher rates of female leaders?

Many of these women have worked their way up these companies’ management for decades. Marillyn Hewson, for instance, joined Lockheed Company 30 years before becoming CEO in 2013.

Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin, is one of very few female CEOs at S&P 500 companies.

However, these industries rank near the bottom in overall female employment, according to the Department of Labor.

Steven Balsam, a professor studying gender diversity at the Fox School of Business at Temple University put forth a possible explanation in an interview with Philadelphia Business Journal, citing an “implicit pressure to have a diversified board” in industries that are “very closely tied to the regulators and the government.” The public sector is more likely to consider gender diversity as a factor when making business decisions.

This view, if correct, suggests that the strides in female leadership at these companies are in part driven by external forces. It also implies a path forward: rather than expecting corporate America to change by itself, consumers must exert pressure by shifting their purchasing and investing decisions based on companies’ commitments to gender diversity.

And in case you were wondering, the industry (among all US companies) with the most women in leadership roles? Non-profit organizations, where 45 percent — still not half! — of CEOs are female. This highlights a nuance for those hoping to promote women leadership by investing in women-led companies: the industry with the most women-led companies is not publicly traded.

The dearth of female CEOs may be more than unfair — it may be bad for business. There’s evidence that companies without female CEOs might be leaving money on the table; ones with female CEOs often perform better than those without, according to a survey of 21,980 firms.

While women CEOs are woefully underrepresented, data suggest they are making up some ground. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 22% of CEO positions were filled by women in 2018, up from 18% in 2017. Progress, sure. Reason for celebration? Not quite.


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Vestive Staff

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