More CEOs are leaving their jobs, and it’s opening doors for women to step up

April 19, 2023, 2:53 PM UTC
More women are entering the role of CEO than ever before.
Martin Barraud—Getty Images

The new calendar year ushered in a changing of the guard, as more CEOs left their posts during the first quarter of 2023 since the same period in 2020—and it’s the second highest first quarter CEO exits on record.

As many as 418 CEOs left their jobs in the quarter, up 6% compared with the first quarter of 2022 and 57% compared with the last quarter of 2022, according to a recent report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive outplacement and coaching firm. While February’s CEO exits hit the highest number since before the pandemic began, turnover in March fell 17% month-over-month. Still though, March exits were up 18% compared compared to a year ago.

“Companies are undergoing a significant amount of change as they respond to economic challenges, higher costs, and talent management issues,” Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

So much changed over the two-plus years of lockdown and the pandemic, including people’s relationship to work and what they expect from companies and their leaders. In the first few months of 2023, 106 CEOs retired and another 25 stepped down and found new positions within their companies, usually heading up another department. Most of the time—127 of the CEO exits—companies don’t provide any reason for departures.

The shake-ups could have repercussions for workers at some of the companies, but it’s also creating silver linings: The exits across the board though have made way for more women to step into the top jobs. More than 30% of incoming CEOs are women, according to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, which is a new record.

In fact, in January, more than 10% of the Fortune 500 companies were led by women, the first time in the list’s 68-year history that that’s happened. The entrance of five new Fortune 500 CEOs brought the number of female CEOs up to 53.

However, it’s still a relatively small number. Fifty-three percent of women in corporate America say they experience loneliness in the workplace, according to a survey conducted by, Berlin Cameron, and Benenson Strategy Group. That loneliness is only more pronounced as they work their way up the predominantly white, male ladder. The same survey found that 30% of senior women said they don’t have anyone to talk to about work.

While a record number of women are landing CEO gigs as more turnover ostensibly leads to more variance, women are also leaving the role at the same or higher rates than before. According to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, just over 21% of female CEOs left their roles in the first quarter of 2023 and 2022, but in February that number was at a record high 22%, up from 17% through February 2022.

“More women coming into the top role than leaving is a great sign for businesses, as that number inches closer to 50%,” Challenger said in a statement. “It’s still far from equitable, but companies committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and we’re starting to see it unfold at the top.”

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