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12/14/2020

Female CEOS: More Is Not Enough

When I heard the news that Citigroup had become the first major financial institution in the U.S. to name a woman, Jane Fraser, as its CEO, I was thrilled. These “firsts” — the women who are first through the door of the top office in their industry — are always a cause for celebration.

At NEW, our mission dictates that Advancing All Women, our mission, is just good business. The facts of this have been proven time and time again. Yet the very fact that there are still barriers to be broken — that there are still “firsts” to be had for women in the C-suite — goes to show how much work there still is to do.

A Record-Breaking 38

When the Fortune 500 was announced earlier this year, it came with a celebrated number: 37, the most female CEOs ever on the list. In 2018, that number was just 24. Clorox, which recently named Linda Rendle as its new CEO, has brought that exciting total up to 38.

That this number continues to rise is a testament to the women and men who have worked tirelessly to ensure that women share an equal opportunity to rise to the top. Yet we can’t ignore the fact that this record-breaking number is still just 7.6 percent of the companies that make up that 500. Compare that to the 49.584 percent of our world which is female, and the problem becomes blatantly apparent.

While we’re talking about an obvious disparity, where are the women of color on this list? There were just three when the list was announced in May, a shocking 0.6 percent of the total CEOs on the list. There are only four Black CEOs on the list, and all four are men. The U.S. is predicted to become “minority white” by 2045, making this gap all the more stark.

Accelerating the Rate of Change

Seeing the number of female CEOs continue to grow in this country is so encouraging, and it is a personal point of pride to be among that group of women. I’m particularly affected when one of our partner organizations appoints a female chief executive, as our partner Clif Bar & Co. did earlier this year when they brought Sally Grimes in to helm their organization.

But looking at these numbers in context shows the work there is left to be done, particularly for women of color.

What can you do? Start by committing yourself to surmounting this challenge, making a promise to yourself not to stop until the work is done. That alone is a very powerful thing, but that commitment must be followed by action.

Support women in your workplace, and resist the urge to call “done” on decades of discrimination when a record is broken. Advocate for women of color, and ensure unconscious bias in our workplaces is challenged and demolished. Find men who can be allies to the cause. Celebrate the wins, but never willingly lean back. There is good news, however: for this fight, you’re in the best of company.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

About the Author

Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a learning and leadership community representing 13,000 members in 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. Learn more at newonline.org. Read More