Gender parity continues to be a joke in corporate leadership: The number of female CEOs of S&P 500 companies declined to 22 last year, following the departures of Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo, Denise Morrison from Campbell Soup, and two others.
Yes, the numbers are so low that individual departures move the needle.
The glory days for female CEOs came back in 2017, when there were 27 CEOs, a less-than-impressive peak. In 2012, there were 20.
“This finding is even more troublesome when read in conjunction with the recent academic research indicating that activist investors are more likely to target female CEOs because of the gender stereotypes that still influence investment managers,” write the authors of a new study confirming these figures from the Conference Board, which was prepared with CEO hiring firm Heidrick & Struggles.
You know what’s not a thing? Older female CEOs. There aren’t any. Female CEOs range in age from 47 to 63, which is much younger than male CEOs. Eleven companies, including FedEx and Walgreens, have CEOs in their seventies or eighties; Warren Buffet and Les Wexner are in their eighties. Last year Prudential Financial, Tyson Foods, and Coty all hired male CEOs in their sixties.
The driving problem is that boards are not hiring women leaders of any age. The last banner year for women CEO hires was 2011, when 10 female CEOs were hired. How many S&P 500 female CEOs were hired last year? One. Just one, out of 59 new CEO hires. She is Kathy Warden, 47, CEO of Northrop Grumman.
Last year, California became the first state to require companies to hire women on corporate boards, but the law is being challenged by a libertarian group claiming it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.