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The number of women running Global 500 businesses soars to an all-time high

August 2, 2021, 11:30 AM UTC

Every year, Fortune publishes the Global 500, a list of the 500 largest companies in the world. Altogether, the combined sales of these businesses equal $31.7 trillion, or one-third of global GDP. And this year, the number of women running companies on the list soared by nine.

Thanks to those nine new entries, women are now running 23 of the companies on the Global 500. The list of female CEOs became much more diverse this year, too; in 2020, just one woman of color ran a Global 500 business. In 2021, there are six women of color serving as Global 500 CEOs. Those numbers represent an all-time high. Since Fortune began tracking the number of female CEOs on the Global 500 in 2014, the statistic has vacillated between 12 and 17.

While these numbers represent a big recovery from 2020, leadership of the Global 500—and thus the global economy—is still overwhelmingly male. Twenty-three female CEOs equals just 4.6% of the total.

The number of women running Global 500 companies is influenced by several factors, including executive leadership changes and companies either growing large enough to make the list, or shrinking to fall off it. As the statistic for the Fortune 500 does for American business, the number of female CEOs for the Global 500 provides a useful snapshot into leadership of the global economy.

In 2020, women ran just 14 Global 500 businesses. This year that number grew thanks to a handful of leadership changes. Karen Lynch in 2021 took over as CEO of CVS Health, ranked No. 7 on the Global 500. CVS is the highest-ranked company on both the Fortune 500 and the Global 500 to be led by a female CEO.

There were more leadership changes at stateside companies that already increased the number of women running Fortune 500 business; now those changes are doing the same for the Global 500. Roz Brewer, the former Starbucks and Walmart executive, took over as CEO of CVS competitor Walgreens Boots Alliance in mid-2021. Jane Fraser became CEO of Citigroup, making her the first woman to run a major Wall Street bank. Former JPMorgan Chase executive Thasunda Brown Duckett became CEO of the retirement manager TIAA.

Outside the U.S., leadership transitions to female CEOs also took place over the past year. At Ping An Insurance, a Chinese company listed at No. 16, Tan Sin Yin (Jessica Tan) became a co-CEO as leadership passed from cofounder Peter Ma to three executives in the role: Tan, Jason Bo, and Xie Yonglin. Véronique Penchienati-Bosetta became the interim co-CEO of French food business Danone. Bianca E.M. Tetteroo became chair of the executive board of the Dutch financial and insurance business Achmea.

At French energy giant Engie, leadership passed from interim chief Claire Waysand to Catherine MacGregor—a rare transition from female CEO to female CEO. (Isabelle Kocher was the prior permanent CEO.)

Pertamina rejoined the Global 500 after one year in which the state-owned Indonesian oil and gas business fell off the list because it did not report fiscal results in time to be included. That brought CEO Nicke Widyawati back to this group. Flex also rejoined the Global 500 in 2021; the global manufacturing business led by CEO Revathi Advaithi had dropped off the Global 500 because of a drop in revenue in 2020.

The returning female CEOs in 2021 are: GM chief Mary Barra; Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux; UPS CEO Carol Tomé; Aviva CEO Amanda Blanc; Best Buy CEO Corie Barry; Accenture CEO Julie Sweet; GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley; Progressive CEO Tricia Griffith; ThyssenKrupp CEO Martina Merz; Oracle CEO Safra Catz; General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic; Northrup Grumman CEO Kathy Warden; and Gree Electric Appliances CEO Dong Mingzhu. No female-led companies fell off the list between 2020 and 2021.

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