When a woman CEO steps down, there’s usually a man waiting to fill her shoes.
Of the at least 24 female chief executive officers of S&P 500 companies who’ve stepped down since 2009, all but three have been replaced by a man, according to an analysis of data on executive departures compiled quarterly by recruiter Spencer Stuart. That includes PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi, who announced Monday that she’ll leave the post in October, and at least four other women this year.
The largest companies have struggled to elevate women, who hold only about 5 percent of CEO positions. Progress has stalled even amid the revelations of harassment or other misconduct brought to light by the #MeToo movement and pressure from investors such as State Street Corp. and BlackRock Inc. to get boards to add diversity.
“Despite the advances that females have made over the last 10 years, and the big push that’s going on to get them into executive positions, if you look at the talent pool of available individuals, it’s going to be mostly men,” said Tom Flannery, who leads the global chief executive board services practice at Boyden, an executive recruiter. “Just from a pure odds standpoint, most of the time, when a CEO is replaced, it’s going to be with a man.”
The departure of Nooyi drops the number of women CEOs in the S&P 500 to 23, according to Bloomberg analysis and data compiled by researcher Catalyst. Kathy Warden is scheduled to become CEO of Northrop Grumman Corp. in January.
Nooyi, 62, who will stay on as chairman until early 2019, is being replaced as CEO by Ramon Laguarta, 54, who has been a candidate to take over since a promotion last year to president. In addition to being PepsiCo’s first woman leader, Nooyi, who is from India, is also the first foreign-born CEO of the company, whose revenue topped $63 billion last year.
In the executive ranks, women tend to concentrate in positions such as chief financial officer, general counsel and head of human resources. Those roles are less likely to result in promotion to CEO than executives who serve as president or chief operating officer, jobs most often held by men, especially when there’s a female at the helm. Kohl’s Corp. is a rare exception because both its CEO, Michelle Gass, and its president, Sona Chawla, are women.
The blame falls partly to corporate boards, which are “overbalanced by males,” said Flannery at Boyden.
“Not only are they dominated by males, but the males that are on boards are mostly baby boomers, some are even war babies, and there are very few Gen Xers and even fewer millennials,” he said. “These are people to whom the whole female gender movement is new.”
Debra Crew’s promotion to succeed Susan Cameron as CEO at Reynold’s American Inc. early last year was the first female-to-female handover in the S&P 500 in six years, according to Spencer Stuart data. The distinction was short-lived because even before she took the job, British American Tobacco Plc said it would buy Reynold’s. Crew departed the company late last year.
Prior to Crew, the last time a female CEO was replaced by another woman in the S&P 500 was in 2012, when Sheri McCoy succeeded Andrea Jung at Avon Products Inc. McCoy announced her resignation last year from Avon, which is no longer in the index. She was eventually replaced by a man. In 2009, Ursula Burns was the first woman to replace a female CEO of a S&P 500 company — Anne Mulcahy at Xerox Corp. When Burns stepped down from the role at the end of 2016, she was replaced by a man.
According to a 2018 report by Grant Thornton, executive teams globally slipped to being just 24 percent female from 25 percent a year earlier.
“Why is it when a woman CEO leaves, we laser focus all this attention on her and her successor with the expectation that she is the only person who has a responsibility, or an expectation that we put on her as a society, that she will then appoint another woman?” asked Heather Foust-Cummings, senior vice president of research and consulting at Catalyst, which advocates for more women in executive ranks.
“And yet we’re not asking why male CEOs are not cultivating that talent and creating a succession plan that enables more women to ascend to the CEO office.”