A Record Number of Women Become CEOs in 2019, but Is That Good Enough?

While 2019 saw a new record total of women appointed as chief executive officers of U.S. companies, the percentage of women ascending to the top job actually declined. Last year, a record total of 1,422 U.S. CEOs were replaced and, among the newly appointed CEOs, 308 were women, a new high. The number represents 21.7% of all new CEOs hired last year and is slightly below the 22.5% total posted in 2018.

In 2017, 18.5% of replacement CEOs (188 of 1,017) were women, according to data released Wednesday morning by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In 2016, 194 of 1,050 replacement CEOs (18.5%) were women, while, in 2015, 159 of 1,038 CEO appointments (15.3%) were women.

Among last year’s replacements, men replaced women in 131 positions while women replaced men 189 times. Men replaced men in 983 instances (69%) and women replaced women in 119 cases. Note that most of the highest paid CEOs last year were men.

Challenger, Gray vice-president Andrew Challenger commented: “It is a bit surprising given the current culture, as well as the sheer number of high-profile male chief executives who have left their posts due to allegations of inappropriate behavior, that we did not see the number of women CEO replacements trend up.”

In the government/nonprofit category, a total of 263 new CEOs were appointed in 2019, the most of any sector. Of that total, 114 (43.3%) were women who replaced a previous CEO of either sex. Nearly one in five new female CEOs replaced a male CEO.

The sector with the highest percentage of new women CEOs was apparel, where 53.8% of 78 of 13 new CEOs were women.

In the technology sector, 171 of 185 (92.4%) new CEOs were men. Among that number, 13 men replaced women while just one woman replaced a man and 13 women replaced other women.

Andrew Challenger noted, “More companies need to ensure women are in the leadership pipeline that feeds the CEO role. Most CEOs are culled from a company’s own ranks. In fact, since 2010, only three years saw more CEO replacements come from outside the organization than inside.”

In six industries, not a single woman replaced a departing male CEO: cannabis, chemical, engineering, mining and telecommunications. A total of 24 CEOs were replaced in those six industries.