Fortune 500 shows incremental progress on diversity

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Dive insight:

  • This year, Fortune boasts 23 women at the helm of its 500 Global companies. This list includes six women of color — marking an all-time high for both categories on the list, which dates back to 1995. 
  • This builds on Fortune’s finding that 41 women are leading companies on Fortune’s U.S. 500 list, which is a milestone. Additionally, this is the first time that two Black women are leading Fortune 500 companies, with Roz Brewer as CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Thasunda Brown Duckett as president and CEO of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America. 
  • Karen Lynch has also made history with CVS Health, making it the highest-ranking business (No. 4) ever run by a woman CEO.

Dive Brief:

While little has been written regarding Fortune Global 500 diversity, it’s safe to say the domestic 500’s inclusion rate is dismal. According to analysis from Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, it will take more than 50 years for minorities to comprise 40% of Fortune 500 board seats.

Representation for women-led businesses has grown at a viscous drip. Fortune first started keeping track of the 500 top-grossing U.S. businesses in 1955. The first time a woman made the list was reportedly 1972, when Katharine Graham was named CEO of The Washington Post. The second woman, Marion Handler, was a co-CEO with her husband for Golden West Financial. A decade later came Warnaco Group CEO Linda Wachner and about a decade after that came Mattel CEO Jill Barad in 1997.  

The first East Asian, South Asian, and Black women CEOs came even later: Avon’s Andrea Jung in 1999, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi in 2006, and Xerox’s Ursula Burns in 2009, respectively. And it wasn’t until 2000 that the Fortune 500 list had more than one woman-led business on it.

Deloitte and ABD’s report pointed out that women and people of color have made more progress between 2016 and 2020 than it has even between 2010 and 2016. But to put the lag into context: Representation of minorities on the Fortune 500 list has increased less than 0.5% each year since 2004 (the year the firms started collecting data).

Number-crunching aside, what’s particularly interesting about the ABD and Deloitte analysis is that it shows a pattern of recycling. The firms found that women and people of color tend to be recycled at a higher rate than White men. While recycle rates for all groups have declined, nearly 36% of diverse board seats in 2020 were occupied by people on multiple Fortune 500 boards. The people in these seats tended to be Black.

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