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The number of women running Fortune 500 companies reaches a record high

May 23, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC

The share of woman-led Fortune 500 companies has hit a record high, with 44 female CEOs at the helm of some of the largest corporations in the U.S. But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this year’s list is just how uneventful the changes in women’s leadership are—a sign that female CEOs are finding stability and staying power atop Fortune 500 companies.

The Fortune 500, which ranks the 500 largest U.S. companies by revenue, is viewed as a microcosm of the overall U.S. business landscape. While the number of women CEOs who run businesses on the list can fluctuate throughout the year, it’s a useful snapshot of the corporate leadership zeitgeist. Female CEOs join the rarified group when they’re hired or promoted into the chief executive job, or if their company makes the Fortune 500 as a new entrant.

With 44 female chief executives spearheading America’s largest companies, women now run 8.8% of businesses on the 2022 list. That’s up from 8.2% last year, when women led 41 of the 500 companies, and six times their share two decades ago, when women led just seven Fortune 500 businesses. After dipping in 2018 to 24, the past four years have marked new record highs for female Fortune 500 chiefs. “We’ve made steady progress, but it’s nowhere near the speed we’d like it to be,” says Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of the women’s leadership nonprofit Catalyst.

Indeed, this year's numbers depict the continuation of slow-but-steady growth for women leaders in corporate America, albeit not as eventful as last year's ranking. The 2021 Fortune 500 list featured two Black women, Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Roz Brewer and TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett, running companies on the list for the first time. Congruently, CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch earned the distinction of spearheading the highest-ranking Fortune 500 company ever led by a female chief executive.

Changes on this year's list are admittedly less exciting—but still important. All three of these women have retained their jobs, as have most other female CEOs who ran Fortune 500 companies at this time last year. Coty chief Sue Nabi and Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman made the list last year but don't appear this year, though they do still hold their CEO titles; their companies simply fell off the Fortune 500. The minimum annual revenue to make the list was $6.39 billion this year.

One new entrant to this year's female CEO cohort is Centene's Sarah London, a former company board director and vice chairman who was tapped as the chief executive of the $126 billion health care company when her predecessor left for medical leave in March. Ellen Cooper this month will become CEO of Lincoln National, the $19.2 billion financial services business where she has spent a decade as chief investment officer. Jackson Financial joined the Fortune 500 this year after its 2021 separation from British financial services business Prudential; CEO Laura Prieskorn has led the business since February 2021. At Bath and Body Works—the former L Brands—Sarah Nash took over this month as interim CEO after her predecessor stepped down for health reasons. Nash, a former banker who owns the manufacturer Novagard, had served as a board director since 2020 when the company spun off the troubled Victoria's Secret.

Racial and ethnic diversity among Fortune 500 female CEOs is about the same as last year; the vast majority of women who run Fortune 500 businesses are white. Aside from Brewer and Duckett, women of color who run Fortune 500 companies include Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal, Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su, Yum China CEO Joey Wat, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals CEO Reshma Kewalramani.

Women tend to run companies that are smaller than the corporate behemoths that make up the Fortune 10 or Fortune 100. Lynch is the only female CEO among the Fortune 5 thanks to CVS Health's $292 billion in revenue. After CVS, which ranks at No. 4, there's a significant gap before Walgreens appears as the next woman-led company, coming in at No. 16. Women run 12 Fortune 100 businesses in total and across the broader Fortune 500, they run five health care companies; seven retailers; and nine financial services businesses.

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