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Women run 37 Fortune 500 companies, a record high

May 18, 2020, 12:31 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Julia Cheek’s Everlywell wins FDA approval for an at-home coronavirus test, Mark Zuckerberg has taken a more hands-on approach at Facebook—affecting Sheryl Sandberg’s role, and more women than ever run Fortune 500 companies. Have a productive Monday. 

– All-time record. Today, Fortune releases our annual Fortune 500, tallying the largest companies in American business. And this year, there’s a new milestone accompanying the list: more women than ever before run Fortune 500 companies

Thirty-seven of the 500 companies on the ranking are headed by women. While female CEOs still represent only 7.4% of Fortune 500 leaders, that’s still an all-time record; last year’s 33 was the prior high. Two decades ago, women ran only two Fortune 500 businesses. 

While the number of women leading these companies is ever-vacillating—as executives are hired, fired, or retire, and as companies grow or shrink to join or fall off the Fortune 500 list—the statistic still provides a useful snapshot of the state of women’s leadership in corporate America. The Fortune 500 itself is seen as a microcosm of U.S. business at large, giving the 7.4% number weight beyond these few hundred companies. 

Now, onto the women. Some new names among the 37 this year include Carol Tomé, a longtime Home Depot executive set to take over UPS on June 1. Heyward Donigan began as CEO of Rite Aid in August of last year. Jennifer Johnson took over her family business, the $5.8 billion investment manager Franklin Resources, from her brother in February. And after Gap Inc. scuttled a plan to spin off Old Navy into what would have been a standalone Fortune 500 company, Sonia Syngal, who had been tapped to run that business, was instead promoted to run the entire corporation.

Which brings us to another point: Syngal is one of only three women of color included among the list of 37. (The other two are Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su and Yum China CEO Joey Wat.) No black women or Latinas run Fortune 500 businesses (that’s a drop-off from last year, when Bed, Bath & Beyond interim CEO Mary Winston was the only black woman at the helm of a company on the list).

You can read on here for more insights into the women running Fortune 500 companies, the progress that has been made, and the many ways in which diversity at the top of American business still has far to go. We’ll be bringing you more from the Fortune 500 issue of the magazine throughout the week. 

Emma Hinchliffe


- CEO/COO. The New York Times reports that Mark Zuckerberg is "effectively sidelining" Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook as he takes a more hands-on approach to solving the tech giant's problems, wading into her traditional responsibilities, like schmoozing lawmakers. A spokesperson for Sandberg declined to comment for the piece. New York Times

- Testing the waters. As the coronavirus pandemic escalated in March, Everlywell was one of a few startups to race to offer coronavirus testing, until hitting hurdles with the FDA. Now the lab-testing company led by Julia Cheek has received FDA approval to provide consumers with at-home swab testing sent to a lab for results. New York Times

- VP report. The Atlantic reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is making her case for the spot on Joe Biden's ticket—and that the coronavirus crisis plays to her strengths as a leader; recent months have also changed the texture of her and Biden's relationship, the Boston Globe reports. Warren also spoke to The Atlantic about the death of her brother from the coronavirus. For Zora, Roxane Gay writes about Stacey Abrams' defense of Joe Biden as he faces a sexual assault allegation (which he denies).

- Penney for your thoughts. J.C. Penney is the latest retailer to file for bankruptcy; as Fortune's Phil Wahba explains, the filing and accompanying closure of a significant number of stores is "a stunning fall from grace for a retailer that at one point was surpassed only by Sears in size and importance in American life." The chain had struggled for years, but CEO Jill Soltau suggested the coronavirus pandemic pushed it over the edge. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Rona Ambrose, former Canadian health minister, joins the board of Juul; she is the first woman to join the e-cigarette company's board. 


- Prom season. President Barack Obama may have given the high-school class of 2020 their commencement address, but Michelle Obama is swooping in with virtual prom. Her organization When We All Vote will host the prom for quarantined high-schoolers in partnership with MTV. CNN

- Bad news. Two women-run media companies are facing troubles right now. Vice, led by CEO Nancy Dubuc, laid off 155 employees last week. And Business Insider reports that layoffs and executive pay cuts at theSkimm earlier this month haven't been enough to ensure the future of the newsletter and media venture founded by Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin. 

- Meaning of Mrs.New York Times series examines the meaning of "Mrs." Explore the package to read stories ranging from women's reflections on the honorific itself, to the work of designer Ray Eames—introduced often only as "Mrs. Eames" in the mid-twentieth century, to the meaning of the word "wife" to queer women. 


Faces of America Allure

Lynn Shelton, director of intimate comic dramas, dies at 54 New York Times

Corona-canceled weddings are changing women’s pregnancy plans Glamour

Motherhood through the looking 'gram Elle


"You will be prepared to face just about anything. In this sense, you have been given a rare and valuable opportunity, while staring down the biggest challenge most of us have ever faced in our lifetimes."

-General Motors CEO Mary Barra in an address to the class of 2020