A record 41 female CEOs are soon going to be leading Fortune 500 companies.

Photographed above Lauren Hobart, current President & Board Member of DICK’S Sporting Goods.

When Lauren Hobart takes the reins as chief executive at Dick’s Sporting Goods in February, corporate America will hit a major milestone for inclusivity that has been driven, in large part, by the retail industry.

Come February, a record 41 female CEOs will be leading Fortune 500 companies, barring any additional appointments or departures. Ten of those 41 women, including Hobart, will be in charge of retailers.

Consultants say consumer-facing companies are coming to the realization that they need a leader at the top who understands the American consumer, and that most people driving purchase decisions in households are women.

Hobart will join a list that includes Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass, Gap CEO Sonia Syngal, Best Buy’s Corie Barry, and incoming CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch, who is set to replace Larry Merlo in Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, the upheaval that many retailers are going through—as rapid e-commerce growth reshapes the industry landscape—has also presented an opportunity for some companies to shake things up, recruiters say. The so-called glass cliff phenomenon refers to women being put into leadership roles during periods of crisis or economic downturn.

As an example, current J.C. Penney CEO Jill Soltau took over at the crippled department store chain in 2018, as the company was posting quarter after quarter of losses and closing hundreds of stores. She’s currently in the midst of navigating Penney out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

With some of the recent CEO appointments, though, companies are simply finding talented women who have been rising up the leadership ranks for years.

Nasdaq submitted a proposal earlier this month to require the more than 3,000 companies listed on its stock exchange to improve boardroom diversity by appointing at least one woman, and at least one minority or LGBTQ+ person, to their boards. If approved by the SEC, the new rules would require all companies listed on Nasdaq’s U.S. exchange to publicly disclose their diversity statistics.

The retail industry leads this year with the largest percentage of female board members, at 32.8%, according to the annual Crist|Kolder Volatility Report, which tracks executive moves at S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies. That’s better than the female representation at boards of financial companies, at 26.5%, and technology, at 25.8%.

It’s worth noting that the number of women leading the largest U.S. companies is still modest. More progress is expected to be made in the coming years, perhaps still driven by retailers.


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Paul Imison
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