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Women’s Representation in C-Suite Has Grown


The next stop for women’s advancement is the C-Suite and it appears as if progress is being made.

Korn Ferry analysis of the top 1,000 United States-based companies by revenue found the percentage of women in key C-suite positions has risen slightly in the last year, but is still dramatically lower than that of their male counterparts. The study, conducted in early 2019, examines the percentage of women by title and by industry.

The analysis found that across the most prominent C-suite titles (CEO, CFO, CIO/CTO, CMO, CHRO) and several industries (consumer, energy, financial, healthcare, industrial, retail, technology and services), 25% of the top leaders are women. That is up slightly from a year ago, when 23% of leaders in the studied C-suite positions were women. While there were increases in the percentage of women in CFO, CIO/CTO and CMO roles, the percentage of women in the CEO and CHRO roles remained constant.

The study found that across all C-suite positions, the most senior post is held by the smallest percentage of women, with only 6% serving as CEO. This percentage is the same as last year.

The highest percentage of female CEOs is in the retail industry (12%), followed by the consumer industry (8%). The industry with the lowest percentage of women CEOs is health care at 1%. (This excludes some health care providers and hospital systems, which are often non-profit organizations that may not publicly disclose financial information).

“In a recent Korn Ferry study, we interviewed dozens of current and former female CEOs, and the majority of them said they hadn’t even considered vying for the top spot until they had a sponsor tell them they were well-suited for the role,” said Jane Stevenson, global leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO Succession Services. “It’s critical that both talented women and those around them focus on creating a clear path for advancement.”

12% of CFOs across industries are women, which is up from 11% last year. The industry with the most female CFOs is retail at 19%, followed by consumer at 14%. The industries tied for having the fewest female CFOs are financial and health care at 8%.

The percentage of women who hold the CIO/CTO role rose to 18% this year from 16% last year. The industry with the highest percentage of women CIOs/CTOs is financial at 25%, and the lowest is in services at 7%. 

The CMO role saw the biggest percentage increase of all C-suite roles, rising to 36% from last year’s 32%. The financial industry has the highest percentage of female CMOs at 53%, up from 45% last year, and energy has the lowest at 20%.

The CHRO role is the only C-suite role where there is gender parity, with 55% of CHROs across industries being women, which is the same as last year. The industry with the largest percentage of women CHROs is financial (65%) and the industry with the lowest is retail at 49%.

The Mix by Industry
When considering the percentage of C-suite women by industry, the financial sector comes in the highest at 31%, followed by health care at 26% and retail at 25%. The consumer sector has 24% of women in the C-suite and 23% of C-suite members in the industrial, technology and energy industries are women. The services industry comes in last at 21%.

“In every industry we analyzed, there’s a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women to the C-suite,” Stevenson said. “This is a joint responsibility of the women to seek out experiences and development that can help them lead and succeed, and for organizations to create an environment where women feel empowered to progress in their careers at all levels.”

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