A first among the big four consulting firms: Deloitte appoints a female CEO

…is ahead of the curve.
…is ahead of the curve.
Image: Reuters/Parivartan Sharma
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One of the biggest consulting and accounting firms in the world, Deloitte, announced Monday that its next CEO would be Cathy Engelbert, the first woman to run the company, and the first female CEO at any of the “big four” global consultancies.

Engelbert, 50, is currently the chairman and CEO of Deloitte’s accounting, auditing, and risk advisory subsidiary, and has been with the company for nearly three decades. She’ll start the new post in March.

Women are still a very small fraction of CEOs in big companies, accounting for just 4.6% of CEOs at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (which Deloitte is not part of). Data from Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on advancing women in business, shows how the ranks of women thin out as they ascend the rungs of the corporate ladder.

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One obstacle to progress is the slow pace of turnover. But Engelbert didn’t have to wait around for decades for her industry’s old (and still predominantly male) guard to step aside or get ousted. The firm elects a new CEO every four years. The process requires a nomination and then approval from two-thirds of all of the company’s voting partners and principals.

Another consulting firm, Strategy&, noted in a 2013 study that in the past 10 years there had been 75% more women in the incoming class of CEOs than in the outgoing classes at the world’s 2,500 largest companies. In 2040, the firm predicted, a third of new CEO appointments will be women.

But the study contained a cautionary tale for newly minted female CEO: women in top positions are more likely than their male counterparts to get fired. Among the CEOs examined in the study, 38% of the female CEOs had been ousted, while the same was true for only 27% of the men.