The biggest takeaways for women leaders from this year’s Fortune 500

May 23, 2022, 1:03 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Old Navy’s plus-size strategy didn’t pan out as planned, Australian women wielded their influence during the country’s elections, and women set another record on this year’s Fortune 500. Have a productive Monday.

– 500 day. It’s a big day on the Fortune calendar: this morning we published the Fortune 500, our ranking of the 500 largest companies in corporate America. The list’s publication provides an annual opportunity to take stock not just of which businesses are driving the U.S. economy, but of the leaders behind them.

This year, a record 44 women are running Fortune 500 businesses. That’s up from last year’s previous record of 41. It’s certainly progress worth celebrating, but it still means that just 44 out of 500 companies, or 8.8%, are women-led.

At this time last year, there was a lot of movement among female Fortune 500 CEOs; Walgreens chief Roz Brewer and TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett became just the second and third-ever Black female CEOs to run companies on the list, and Karen Lynch’s corner office post at CVS Health made the health care company the largest ever to be led by a female chief executive.

This year, the changes are less exciting, which speaks to the staying power women leaders have gained among America’s biggest companies. (And, it’s worth noting, low CEO turnover overall.) New leaders on the 500 include Centene CEO Sarah London, Lincoln National CEO Ellen Cooper, and Jackson Financial CEO Laura Prieskorn. Another is Sarah Nash, who is serving as interim CEO for Bath and Body Works, the former L Brands; a longtime banker and owner of the manufacturer Novagard, she has served on the company’s board since 2020 and helped it navigate its spinoff of the troubled Victoria’s Secret.

Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer, Bath and Body Works interim CEO Sarah Nash and Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su are among the women who serve as chief executives of businesses on this year’s Fortune 500.
Lucy Hewett, Courtesy of Novagard, Courtesy of Lisa Su

Two women CEOs who appeared on the ranking last year don’t make the cut this year—Coty CEO Sue Nabi and Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman—but they still hold their CEO roles; their companies, however, fell below the minimum $6.39 billion in revenue required to make this year’s Fortune 500.

While the changes are less headline-grabbing this year, it’s still remarkable how far the list has come. Two decades ago, in 2002, just seven women led Fortune 500 companies. Going back even further, to 1998 (the beginning of Fortune data on the matter), there were just two. Says Catalyst CEO Lorraine Hariton: “We’ve made steady progress, but it’s nowhere near the speed we’d like it to be.” Read the full story here.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.


- Good intentions. Almost a year ago, Old Navy announced a new strategy to serve its customers: the retailer integrated all sizes, removing behind-the-scenes and in-store divisions between plus sizes and straight sizes. But the launch hasn't gone as planned, with sales falling and stores saddled with extra clothing items in the largest and smallest sizes, and too few in the middle of the size range. Shoppers say they appreciate the move toward inclusivity, but have been frustrated by the inability to find their size. Wall Street Journal

- Union rep. Sara Nelson, president of the largest flight attendant union Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, responded to a report that billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk paid $250,000 to a SpaceX staffer who accused him of sexual misconduct. "Flight attendants are not just another accessory on Musk’s little rocket," Nelson said. Musk has denied the allegation of sexual misconduct. NBC News

- Voter turnout. Australian women proved to be a strong force in the country's elections this weekend. The conservative Liberal Party is no longer in power for the first time in nine years, replaced by the Labor Party. A handful of women who ran as independents won five seats that helped Labor overtake former Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government. These women ran on a platform that called for climate change action and called out the sexual harassment allegations that have roiled Australia's government. Reuters

- Behind the story. The right-wing news site The Daily Wire has been funding coverage that paints actor Amber Heard in a negative light. (For background, Johnny Depp sued Heard for defamation after she wrote an essay in which she described herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse.") The conservative outlet has spent up to $47,000 promoting stories on Facebook and Instagram "with a clear bias against Heard." Vice

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Meredith Artley, who has led CNN Digital as SVP and editor-in-chief, is leaving amid the Warner Media-Discovery merger. Candle Media, the Blackstone-backed entertainment business behind Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook, adds Courtney Cappa as SVP, finance and accounting and Kendall Ostrow as SVP, business development and community. L’Oréal USA promoted Han Wen, who has run digital transformation for the brand's professional products division, to chief digital and marketing officer. 


- On air. The Taliban-ordered decree requiring that Afghan women wear face coverings will extend to those who appear on television as news broadcasters. The government announced the order on Thursday, and by Sunday, most female anchors delivered the news while wearing full head and face coverings. One TOLONews anchor said the order "can create a problem for us while presenting our programs." Politico

- Population health. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said in an interview that the state's rate of maternal mortality isn't as bad as it appears—if you don't count Black women. "If you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear," he told PoliticoVanity Fair

- Formula fix. Abbott CEO Robert Ford wrote a Washington Post op-ed apologizing for the company's role in the U.S. infant formula shortage. "We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage," he wrote. The first military plane carrying imported formula arrived in the U.S. this weekend, with enough formula "for more than half a million baby bottles." 


FIFA appoints three female referees for World Cup for first time in competition history The Athletic

How Ellen DeGeneres won, and then lost, a generation of viewers L.A. Times

A Black doctor tried to diversify medicine. Then she lost her job BuzzFeed

Ashley Graham: After giving birth, I had to relearn how to love my body Glamour


"There was something in me that always thought I was special. Even when I was really bad. And I don’t know where it came from. Probably my mother loving me too much or something."

-Comedian Megan Stalter, who stars in the HBO Max series Hacks

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