With so few women running large US companies, it would seem that the number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 could only go up.
In 2016, the number of women at the helm of Fortune 500 firms declined to 21—not 21%, but 21 total. That’s down from 24 the previous year. The lost ground means a mere 4.2% of the 500 largest US companies by revenue are led by female CEOs.
The statistics, courtesy of the Fortune Knowledge Group (FKG) and a new study underwritten by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), suggest America’s largest companies have much work to do to achieve gender parity, and the financial benefits that have been shown to come with it. McKinsey & Co. research, for example, has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in top management and at the board level are 15% more likely to outperform the average financial returns for their industry.
The FKG/RBC study isolates another important benefit of female CEOs: the C-level teams that surround them are far more likely to include women.
The presence of a female board chair also seems to be correlated with gender-diverse C-suites, but the impact isn’t quite as dramatic.
It’s worth noting that in both cases, the promotion or presence of women in C-level roles seems to deplete the next tier of managers of female talent, suggesting even those companies with diverse top-management teams have work to do to deepen their bench of female talent.
Overall, the FKG study finds that 19% of the more than 7,500 senior management positions across the companies examined are held by women. By sector, companies in the household and personal products industry are the most diverse on the basis of gender, followed by the hospitality (hotels, restaurant, and leisure) and apparel industries.
FKG also created a diversity index, ranking companies in the Fortune 500 based on the number of women in senior management, board roles, and “pipeline” positions where rising talent can be groomed for the next level. An index score of 1 is the top ranking. Here are the top 20 companies for senior-level gender diversity based on their composite index score. Corn refiner Ingredion leads the list, followed by Avon and PepsiCo.