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Women scarce at top of U.S. business – and in the jobs that lead there

May 2, 2018
Diversity & Inclusion

Despite the advances women have made in the workplace, they still account for a small share of top leadership jobs. That’s true in the fields of politics and government, academia, the nonprofit sector – and particularly business.

Women held only about 10% of the top executive positions (defined as chief executive officers, chief financial officers and the next three highest paid executives) at U.S. companies in 2016-17, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal securities filings by all companies in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 stock index. And at the very top of the corporate ladder, just 5.1% of chief executives of S&P 1500 companies were women.

Nor do many women hold executive positions just below the CEO in the corporate hierarchy in terms of pay and position. Only 651 (11.5%) of the nearly 5,700 executives in this category, which includes such positions as chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO), were women. Although this group in general constitutes a significant pool of potential future CEO candidates, the women officers we identified tended to be in positions such as finance or legal that, previous research suggests, are less likely to lead to the CEO’s chair than other, more operations-focused roles.

Within the 11 broad economic sectors into which the 1500 companies are divided, in no case did women make up even a fifth of CEOs or non-CEO top executives. Nor do those levels appear likely to rise much anytime soon. A 2017 survey of corporate human-resource heads at large U.S. companies found that women made up only 10% of the short-term CEO candidate pool (i.e., people who’d be considered for promotion to CEO within the next three years). Looking out further, three to five years in the future, raised the share of women in the CEO candidate pool only to 15%.

This research builds on and extends previous work by other researchers that has found low levels of women leaders in major U.S. companies. To arrive at our count of women in top executive positions, we looked at compensation reports filed by all S&P 1500 companies with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in calendar year 2017, most of which covered company fiscal years that ended in 2016 or early 2017. (We chose this time frame because fiscal years vary so much from company to company.)

> Read the full article on the Pew Research website

By Drew Desilver

Source: Pew Research

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