MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When she took over the reins at Best Buy on Tuesday, Corie Barry became the 34th woman currently running a Fortune 500 company. That means women now make up slightly less than 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs. So, why are there so few? Good Question.
“There’s lots of reasons that contribute to this,” says Pat Hedberg, a leadership professor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. “People want to see someone like them succeed and do well in an organization. That’s one reason that matters.”
She says often times women self-select out of the role due to demanding nature.
“Maybe the answer is that we could do a much better job of developing younger women and women earlier in their careers to aspire to those roles,” Hedberg said.
At the same time, some things have changed. In 1999, there were two female Fortune 500 CEOs – the heads of Golden West Financial and Mattel.
“Organizations have realized that it’s important to have women in leadership roles,” Hedberg said.
She says the are now more women on corporate boards and in graduate schools. There is also more deliberate mentoring.
“It’s women seeing places they can go, whereas it’s something they didn’t see 30 years ago,” Hedberg said.
About a quarter (26%) of all chief executives in the US are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The first was Anna Bissell. When her husband died in 1889, she took over the vacuum company.
The first to head a Fortune 500 company was Katharine Graham of the Washington Post in 1972. The first Fortune 500 transition from female to female CEO was in 2009 when Ursula Burns took over from Anne Mulcahey of Xerox.
Burns was also the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. Now, the only woman of color on that list is Joey Wat, head of Yum China.
“There’s complicated factors as to why this is happening,” Hedberg said. “If we don’t talk about or don’t think about it, then it won’t change.”