Progressive Insurance joined one of the most exclusive clubs in corporate America this month when it named Lawton Fitt its chairwoman.
With Fitt leading the insurer’s board and Tricia Griffith as CEO, Progressive is the only company in the Fortune 500 with two women in its most prominent roles.
The rarity of Progressive’s leadership tandem underscores how underrepresented women are at the top of the biggest companies. In the newly published version of the Fortune list, which ranks the 500 largest companies by annual revenue, only 5%, or 24 companies, had a female CEO, down from 32 a year ago. Today the number is actually at 23: Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, resigned suddenly on May 18, in the wake of declining sales for its core business and a slumping stock price.
Through 2017, there have only been 60 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 since Katherine Graham of the Washington Post became the first in 1972, according to research from KDM Engineering. As recently as 1998, there were only four: Graham, Marion Sandler of Golden West Financial, Linda Wachner of Warnaco, and Jill Barad of Mattel.
The ongoing scarcity of female CEOs is one of the reasons there are so few female chairwomen, since board members often are plucked from the ranks of chief executives, and why it’s vanishingly rare for both roles to be held by women. According to Equilar, Progressive is only the third company since 2008 with two women in those roles, following Hewlett Packard Enterprise (CEO Meg Whitman and chairwoman Patricia Russo) and Duke Energy (CEO Lynn Good and chairwoman Ann Gray). The analysis doesn’t count companies where the same woman fills both roles, like Indra Nooyi at Pepsico and Virginia Rometty at IBM.
Given the decline in female CEOs in the Fortune 500, there’s little reason to be optimistic about a fourth company joining Progressive any time soon.