For The First Time In History, Over 10% Of Fortune 500 CEOs Are Women

This year, New Year’s Day made good on its promise of new beginnings. January 1, 2023 was the start date of five new women helming Fortune 500 companies, bringing the total number of women CEOs to 53. Which means, for the first time in history—after years of being stuck at the 8% mark—over 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

It’s fair to ask (as this very writer has) whether it’s worth celebrating a meager 2% difference, especially when it also makes clear how far we still have to go for equal representation (almost five times where we’re at today). Yet, these victories, however small, do matter. After all, the biggest leaps require innumerable small steps to make them possible. So before rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work, let’s take a moment to recognize how far we’ve come by celebrating some of the history-making women who brought us over the 10% line.

Serving as an excellent example of how the promotion pipeline should work for women, all five of the women who began their tenure New Year’s Day were promoted to CEO from within their organizations. Karla Lewis was appointed CEO of Reliance Steel & Aluminum after serving over three decades with the multibillion-dollar metal solutions company. Lewis first joined Reliance in 1992 as Corporate Controller and has worked her way up the corporate ladder, holding various positions, including CFO and senior executive vice-president.

Another veteran at the company she now leads, Julia Sloat is the seventh and newest CEO of American Electric Power, an Ohio-based company that serves over 5 million customers in 11 states. Sloat joined the company in 1999 as a senior analyst and has since served as CFO and COO. Her tenure comes at a critical time for AEP, as it transitions away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources.

Also coming from the materials and manufacturing industries, Jennifer A. Parmentier took over as CEO of Parker Hannifin, a century-old motion and control technologies company that engineers solutions for everything from the aerospace industry to wind turbines and solar panels. Parmentier joined the company in 2008 as a plant manager and has served as its COO since 2021.

One of the most powerful women in fintech, Stephanie Ferris is now the CEO of Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) after officially taking the helm a few weeks earlier than her planned January 1 start date. A 28-year fintech industry veteran and leader in finance, Ferris joined FIS as the CFO of Worldpay when the payments software firm was acquired by FIS in 2019. She was quickly inducted into FIS leadership roles, including COO and CAO.

Another global tech industry leader, Maria Black is the new CEO of Automatic Data Processing (ADP). Black leads the payroll and HR technology company as its seventh CEO. Yet another longtime company veteran, Black first joined ADP in 1996 as a sales associate. Her remarkable career saw her rise through the ranks; she’s held numerous positions, including general manager of employer services and president of worldwide sales and marketing.

It’s certainly noteworthy that each of these five CEOs had storied careers—most of which spanned decades—at the companies they now run. It speaks to the importance of hiring women at every level of a company and supporting women’s careers and advancement at each stage and throughout the promotion pipeline. Moreover, each was named CEO with a sentiment of progress and a sense that their leadership will shepard their respective companies into the future (the words “future,” “tomorrow,” and “innovation” came up a lot), which seems fitting.

Women’s presence in company leadership creates knock-on effects felt throughout their organizations. It even improves how companies think about women; researchers found that having more women in leadership roles dismantles the very stereotypes that hold women back. Moreover, women are more likely than men to hire women, which means better representation in the C-suite can lead to better representation at every level. And studies have shown that the more women there are at the top of a company, the healthier the workplace culture (for both women and men alike), the more likely women’s achievements are to be recognized, and the more likely women are to be promoted.

So yes, 10.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs being women may seem a meager milestone, but it represents something so much greater: where we’re headed. It may not be a leap, but this is an important step forward. Each threshold we cross, each barrier we break brings us closer to parity. And while we may not have broken the glass ceiling, thanks to grit and decades-long grinds up the corporate ladder, we sure have raised it.