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Women Making Strong Moves in the C-Suite

Shortly after her company’s stock soared in early February, Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO and founder of Bumble Inc., a dating app where women make the first move, became a billionaire.

Bumble’s IPO launches Wolfe Herd into a rarefied club of self-made female billionaires. While women make up about half of the global population, self-made women — mostly from Asia — account for less than 5% of the world’s 500 biggest fortunes, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Self-made men comprise almost two-thirds of the wealth index.


Bumble’s rise to prominence is particularly significant in the context of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Wolfe Herd capitalized on an underserved market and built a multibillion-dollar company that was born from one of the key obstacles to women in the workplace: sexual harassment. What’s more, most of Bumble’s executive team are female.

“Hopefully this will not be a rare headline,” Wolfe Herd said in an interview with Bloomberg Television, referring to the uniqueness of Bumble’s women-led management. “Hopefully this will be the norm. It’s the right thing to do, it’s a priority for us and it should be a priority for everyone else.”

For now, Bumble’s story is still unique. Of the 559 companies that have gone public in the United States in the past year, just two, aside from Bumble, were founded by women. Goldman Sachs, a key player in taking companies public, is hoping to change this male-dominated dynamic.

CEO David Solomon announced in January 2020 that the investment bank will refuse to take a company public unless it has at least one woman or minority board member. The rule went into effect on July 1 in the U.S. and Europe. Solomon’s move isn’t simply about appearances. There’s various research that indicates organizations with more diversity throughout, especially in leadership roles, tend to outperform those bereft of it. 

“Broader and intentional representation of underrepresented groups is essential if you want to remain competitive and relevant in today’s marketplace,” said Scott Cawood, CEO of WoldatWork. “Bold moves like the one demonstrated by Goldman Sachs shows the power the business community can have in driving social change and I welcome more leaders to follow suit.”

Tracy Bosch, an associate client partner at Korn Ferry, said in an interview with WorldatWork for a January 2019 Workspan magazine feature that increasing female representation in the C-suite starts at the top.

“Improving women's representation in the C-suite needs to be a priority at the board level for us to see real progress,” Bosch said. “Motivation for boards to take that seriously is increasing with pressure from investors, customers, employees and legislation.”

The Nasdaq stock exchange has taken this to heart and filed a proposal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in December that would require all companies listed on the exchange to publicly disclose consistent, transparent diversity statistics about their board of directors.

It would require most Nasdaq-listed companies to have, or explain why they don’t have, at least two diverse directors on their board. This includes having one board member who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ. Foreign companies and smaller reporting companies would receive additional flexibility.

Nasdaq is the first major exchange to pursue such a requirement, but not the first authority to pursue board diversity requirements. In September, California passed a law that will legally require public companies headquartered in the state to diversify their boards in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual and gender identity. That law requires companies to have at least one board member from an underrepresented community by the end of 2021 and at least two or three by the end of 2022.

California’s new law expands on its 2018 law, which required public companies headquartered in the state to have at least one female on their board of directors by the end of 2019. Nasdaq’s proposed requirement, if successful, will look to have the same results the original California law had.

According to The Wall Street Journal, there were 93 California-based companies in the Russell 3000 that had all-male boards when the bill was signed into law. Within a year, only 17 had no women on their boards. During the same period, according to the WSJ, 244 California companies in the Russell 3000 have added at least one female director, and 41 companies added two. Even more surprising: More than 90% of companies in the S&P 500 now include two or more women on their boards, compared to 86% in the prior year. And last year a milestone was reached, as the last all-male board among the S&P 500 was eliminated.

Notably, for the second year in a row, California had the largest increase in companies with 20% or more of their board seats held by women. In California, 68 more companies met the 20% goal in 2019 than in 2018. According to data from Bloomberg, women “now hold 28% of all board seats at major corporations.”

A New CEO at Walgreens

A female board member at Inc. made history in January, as Rosalind Brewer was announced as the new CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., making her the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company. Brewer previously served as chief operating officer (COO) at Starbucks Corp. and before joining Starbucks, Brewer was CEO of Walmart Inc.’s Sam’s Club division for five years. Brewer, 58, will join Walgreens and its board on March 15. She resigned from the board of Amazon on Feb. 16.

“We were excited to hear that Rosalind Brewer was tapped to lead Walgreens, her leadership and keen capabilities are exactly what the health care space needs and we look forward to the many innovative changes that are surely to come,” Cawood said. “At WorldatWork, we know great talent when we see it and Brewer has consistently delivered optimum results and an improved workplace every place she has been. We all will reap the benefits of her impact on an organization and industry ready for its next generation of leadership and purpose.”

Brewer joined the coffee chain in 2017 and worked to diversify the company’s leadership. Starbucks announced in 2020 that it would tie executive compensation to increasing minority representation in its workforce and mandated anti-bias training for company leaders.

The number of women running Fortune 500 companies hit an all-time high last year at 37 and more have since been appointed.

Lisa Su Makes History

Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices became the first woman to ever top The Associated Press’ annual survey of CEO compensation in 2020.

Su’s pay package was valued at $58.5 million following AMD’s strong stock performance during her five years as CEO. The median pay for women on the list was $13.9 million versus $12.3 million for men.

Overall, pay for women was up 2.3% from last year and the median change for men was 5.4%. Women, however, still remained significantly underrepresented as CEOs, making up just 5% of the S&P 500 companies surveyed. Some experts view the lack of female leadership as the crux of the pay equity issue

“Women still remain grossly underrepresented in C-level roles,” said Mark Girouard, shareholder and chair of the labor and employment practice group at Nilan Johnson Lewis. “And in those roles — like in the mid-level management roles in which female leaders’ careers can often stall — they are still paid less than their peers.”  

Su’s compensation was more than four times the value of her pay in the prior year, according to the AP. The gain was driven primarily by rewards for performance, including $53 million in stock awards and $3 million in stock options, which vest over several years. Su was paid a base salary of $1 million and a performance-based bonus of $1.2 million.

While Wolfe Herd, Brewer and Su all had noteworthy accomplishments in the past year, there have been many positive female advancement developments in the workplace. And as more companies join the likes of Goldman Sachs and Nasdaq in a push for more diversity and female representation, these accomplishments will transition from historic to commonplace.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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