A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center took a closer look at the gender gaps in corporate leadership in the US, focusing on top-level executive positions and the roles from which senior leaders are most commonly promoted to them. Drew DeSilver wrote up the analysis late last month at Pew’s Fact Tank blog:
Women held only about 10% of the top executive positions (defined as chief executive officers, chief financial officers and the next three highest paid executives) at U.S. companies in 2016-17, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal securities filings by all companies in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 stock index. And at the very top of the corporate ladder, just 5.1% of chief executives of S&P 1500 companies were women.
Nor do many women hold executive positions just below the CEO in the corporate hierarchy in terms of pay and position. Only 651 (11.5%) of the nearly 5,700 executives in this category, which includes such positions as chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO), were women. Although this group in general constitutes a significant pool of potential future CEO candidates, the women officers we identified tended to be in positions such as finance or legal that, previous research suggests, are less likely to lead to the CEO’s chair than other, more operations-focused roles.
That women are underrepresented among CEOs and other high-level executive positions is hardly breaking news. The most interesting finding from Pew’s analysis is that three-quarters of the CEOs studied had previously held leadership roles in operations: a function where women are significantly underrepresented. At the same time, the gains women have made in obtaining executive roles in finance, legal, and HR are not putting these women leaders on the CEO track.
This finding builds on other recent research showing that although women’s representation in management has increased dramatically over the past few decades, women are still segregated into leadership roles that are less production-focused, less highly compensated, and less likely to be career stepping stones toward the top of the pyramid. We see the same thing in boardrooms: Even as more women directors are appointed, they remain less likely than their male colleagues to achieve positions of influence on the board.