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Women in Business

Where Are the Women CEOs?

Why are just 5 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies women? 

More than half of college graduates in the United States are women, and women account for more than one-third of the students who receive MBAs. Yet when entering the workforce, men are more than twice as likely to be in the CEO pipeline to CEO, according to Working Mother Research Institute’s 2019 study “The Gender Gap at the Top.”

The study shows that the gender gap starts early in careers. Most companies do not provide new employees with information about the difference between “line” roles that lead to the top — where you gain experience in generating revenue — and “staff” or support roles. 

New workers need to know the path they must take to become CEOs and make the right choices for themselves and the company. They need to know that to compete, they must hold positions where they’re ensuring the profitability of a brand or a line of business, known as profit-and-loss (P&L) experience.

The right opportunities

Somehow only 23 percent of corporate women, compared with 82 percent of corporate men, say they knew about these diverging line and staff career paths when starting out. Why? It’s about knowledge and relationships. 

Men often have advocates who promote them into P&L positions that lead to the top. Nearly twice as many early-career men have a strategic network of sponsors and mentors who offer career guidance. So men, not women, are steered into the revenue-generating jobs that make them eligible for advancing to the top job.

Before we will see more women CEOs, companies need to ensure women have information about the jobs that lead to the top and the sponsors who open the doors to it. Companies must also hold managers accountable for ensuring talented women gain the essential P&L experience that makes them competitive.

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