May 30, 2018

Women Still Can’t Break Into the C-Suite

For all the progress that’s been made by women in the business world, there are still long-standing barriers. For example, women own 36% of all businesses in the United States, yet they experience loan approval rates 20% below those of men. Women-run businesses generate $1.7 trillion in revenue, but men still get paid nearly 25% more than women.

To many observers, it seems like a classic case of two steps forward, one step back. The progress is unmistakable, yet research shows that it has its limits. Primarily, women still struggle to reach top leadership jobs in fields like politics, academics, and more.

In few realms is this glass ceiling more evident than in business. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, women only held 10% of top executive positions (defined as a company’s top five highest paid executives) in 2016-17. And if you look at the very top of the Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 stock index, only 5% of chief executives were females.

So if women hold 10% of executive positions but hardly ever make it to the top three roles, where do they ultimately end up? Pew’s research suggests that rather than holding jobs that are likely a track to CEO, such as chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO), women were more often in roles like finance and legal. Not to belittle the importance of these positions, but research shows they’re less likely to be a route to eventually serving as CEO.

Indeed, there’s another study out there suggesting that women make up only about 10% of the candidate pool for CEO of large companies in America. Just as it’d be hard for women to buy an equal number of tickets to the county fair if 90% of folks in the ticket line were males, this disparity in the candidate pool ensures a massively unbalanced promotion ratio.

When the statistics are broken out by industry, some interesting trends emerge. Women lead most in the utilities sector, where 18.5% of CEOs are female. And other sectors with better-than-average rates of female leadership include hotels, restaurants, and broadcasters.

On the flipside, telecommunications was one of the worst industries for female CEOs, with just 6% of companies being led by a woman.

All this research underscores the importance of shining a light on unconscious bias and providing avenues that bring parity to the C-suite in America. Change won’t happen overnight, but these efforts will continue the positive momentum occurring throughout the business world.

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About the author

Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on and Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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