Gender inequality has always been an issue since women were allowed to work modern jobs. With its newfound popularity, it is as polarizing as ever. Aside from the infamous pay gap, people are pointing to a shortage of women in leadership roles, often relegated to secretarial positions that deal with less prestigious tasks like file administration and handling menial processes like how to fill out LLC application.
In 2020, an analysis revealed that the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the fewer women you will find (Mercer, 2020). One of the main factors that hinder women from achieving equality in the United States is that employers simply do not handle these issues actively (Ipsos, 2020).
As such, with so many gender inequality problems riddling the workplace and the corporate world, it is truly remarkable to see women rise to the highest positions. This post aims to recognize the top women CEOs of S&P 500 companies. You are probably familiar with some names of female CEOs since many of them are famous female CEOs, but let's take a closer look at their achievements. We seek to inspire the idea that women continue to be a driving force behind the modern economy.
Several studies have shown that hiring more women is a smart business move, and that ensuring gender diversity at the executive level is strongly associated with value creation and profitability (Lamson, 2018). Companies with women CEOs have recognized Gallup's (2015) suggestion that female managers are more engaged than their male counterparts. Gallup also suggests that hiring women likely results in nurturing equally engaged, higher-performing teams. While there are still more male executives than females, the corporate world seems to move gradually toward a direction that puts more women behind the chief executive officer (CEO) desk.
A year-long research found that the percentage of women filling senior management positions has grown to 29% in 2019, the highest to be recorded thus far (Grant Thornton, 2020). There has also been a noticeable increase in female CEOs over the last decade. According to an analysis by Challenger, Gray & Christmas (2019), the apparel industry hired the most female CEO replacements (67%), followed by real estate (42%), financial services (24.5%), and the food industry (23%).
Source: Challenger, Gray & ChristmasDesigned by
In August 2018, there were only 24 female S&P 500 CEOs, but the year ended with 31 women in the seat. By 2019, another female CEO joined the ranks and as of this writing, 32 women remain at the helm. Gone are the days when female CEOs are left to oversee what society used to define as "decidedly female," and with good reason. Becoming the CEO of a beauty brand has more to do with one's predispositions and skills rather than simply being defined by one's gender. So, what degree do you need for cosmetology? A terminal degree like an AAS in cosmetlogy would do along with a high competency for running and promoting a business.
Going back, let us get to know more about these top female CEOs in America who did not let the hurdles that hound their gender stop them from reaching the top.
First in our list of female CEOs is Mary Barra is the chairman and CEO of General Motors. She started serving as CEO on January 15, 2014, and as chairman of the company’s board of directors on January 4, 2016.
Before becoming General Motors’ CEO, Barra served as the company’s executive vice president (EVP) for its global product development, purchasing and supply chain division, a position she held from August 2013. Before that, she was the senior vice president (SVP) of global product development from February 2011.
In 1985, Barra obtained her electrical engineering degree from General Motors Institute, now known as Kettering University. Later, she attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she graduated in 1990 with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree.
Corie Barry is the CEO of Best Buy Co. Inc., a position she has held since June 2019. Before becoming the company’s top executive, Barry has also held other executive roles. Most recently, she served as Best Buy’s chief financial and strategic transformation officer.
Barry became part of Best Buy in 1999 and has since assumed various positions in operations and finance. Among her previous titles are chief financial officer (CFO), chief strategic growth officer, and senior vice president of domestic finance.
Barry obtained her undergraduate degrees in business management and accounting from the College of St. Benedict.
Mary Dillon has been serving as CEO of the beauty retail company Ulta Beauty since July 2013. Before working for Ulta, she was the president and CEO of the mobile network company U.S. Cellular from 2010 to 2013. She also worked at McDonald’s as its global chief marketing officer and EVP from 2005 to 2010.
In 2016, Fortune named Dillon as one of the year’s most powerful women. She also received the Sandra Taub Humanitarian Award for philanthropic leadership in October 2018.
Dillon acquired her bachelor’s degrees in Asian Studies and Marketing from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she has become a role model for female marketing majors.
Joanne Crevoiserat has the CEO of the luxury fashion holding company Tapestry, Inc. since July 2020. She joined Tapestry as its CFO in 2019. Crevoiserat has deep financial, operational, and industry expertise spent over decades of assuming several management roles in different retail companies, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Kohl’s.
In 1985, Crevoiserat obtained her bachelor of science in Finance from the University of Connecticut.
Barbara Rentler has been serving Ross Stores as its CEO since June 2014. Before that role, she was the president and chief merchandising officer of Ross Dress for Less from 2009 to 2014, and EVP of merchandising from 2006 to 2009. She also served as EVP and chief merchandising officer at dd’s DISCOUNTS from 2004 to 2005. She joined the company in 1986.
In 2019, Forbes named Rentler as one of America’s Most Innovative Leaders. She was the only woman on the list. Rentler prefers to keep her education and other personal details private.
Sonia Syngal has been the CEO, president, and director at Gap, Inc. since March 2020. She also has a set on the board of The Gap Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Prior to her becoming Gap’s CEO, she used to be co-president and co-CEO at Old Navy LLC. Under her leadership, Old Navy was named as a Great Place to Work from 2016 to 2018. She also worked at Sun Microsystems as director for procurement strategy.
Syngal graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University in 1993. Two years later, she obtained her master’s in manufacturing systems engineering degree from Stanford University.
Michele Buck is The Hershey Company’s first-ever female president, chairman, and CEO, roles she assumed beginning 2017. Buck has over 25 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry. Prior to being the company’s head executive, she has held various senior leadership roles, including being a chief operating officer (COO). Before joining The Hershey Company, Buck spent 17 years with Kraft/Nabisco and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division.
Buck earned her bachelor of business administration degree from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 1982. Meanwhile, in 1987, she obtained her MBA degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Linda Rendle started in her role as CEO of The Clorox Company in September 2020. She has been with the company for almost two decades. Over the years, she has held various senior leadership roles. Before becoming CEO, she functioned as president of the company, overseeing important global functions. In 2016, she held the position of senior vice president of the cleaning division and joined the Clorox Executive Committee.
Rendle obtained her bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University.
Michelle Gass is the current director and CEO of Kohl’s Corporation. She assumed the position in May 2018. Gass joined the company in 2013, taking the position of chief customer officer. In 2015, she became chief merchandising and customer officer. She was promoted in October 2017 as CEO-elect before officially taking the helm.
Prior to working at Kohl’s, she spent over 15 years with the Starbucks Corporation, where she also held various leadership roles in marketing, merchandising, and global strategy. Gass holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA, which she got from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Washington, respectively.
Sue Nabi was named CEO of the beauty company, Coty, Inc. in July 2020. Before this role, Nabi founded Orveda, a vegan skincare line launched in 2017. She also spent 20 years at L’Oreal where she served as the president for the Lancôme and L’Oréal brands.
Nabi has a degree in engineering that she completed at France’s ENGEES (National School for Water and Environmental Engineering). She also has an advanced master’s degree in marketing management from ESSEC Business School.
Gail Boudreaux is the CEO and president of Anthem, Inc., a leading health benefits and insurance provider. She has been in the role since November 2017. This is not Boudreaux’s first rodeo as CEO. She also held the same position in UnitedHealthcare prior to joining Anthem. Boudreaux also previously worked with Health Care Service Corporation as EVP and with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois as president.
Boudreaux got her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with honors, from Dartmouth College. She also obtained an MBA with distinction from the Columbia Business School.
Reshma Kewalramani, M.D., FASN, is the CEO and president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals beginning April 1, 2020. For over 15 years, she has been closely involved in the development of new types of medicine. Previously, she held the positions of chief medical officer and EVP of Vertex’s Global Medicines Development and Medical Affairs. Before joining Vertex in 2017, Dr. Kewalramani spent over 12 years at another biopharmaceutical company, Amgen, where she also held senior roles in research and development.
Dr. Kewalramani completed her residency and internship in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). She also has a fellowship in nephrology, which she completed through a combined program at MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Aside from her medical degree, with honors, from Boston University School of Medicine, she also completed Harvard Business School’s General Management Program.
Kristen Peck has been the CEO of global animal health company Zoetis beginning January 2020. Before holding the CEO position, she served as the company’s EVP and group president for U.S. operations and business development and strategy. Since joining Zoetis, Peck has held various important roles in global product and corporate development.
Prior to joining Zoetis, Peck was EVP for worldwide business development and innovation at Pfizer. She also worked at The Boston Consulting Group and other finance companies.
Peck acquired her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and her MBA from the Columbia Graduate School of Business.
Safra Catz has been the CEO of Oracle Corporation since 2014. She has also been seated as one of Oracle’s board of directors since 2001. Before becoming CEO, Catz has served as the company’s president. Previously, she functioned as its CFO. She joined Oracle in 1999 and has since been largely involved in the company’s aggressive acquisition activities.
In 1983, Catz obtained her bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a J.D., which she acquired from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1986.
Christine Leahy became CDW Corporation’s first female CEO when her predecessor stepped down in 2019. Prior to her current position, she was the company’s chief revenue officer. Previously, she was senior vice president - international, a position where she led the company’s international strategy development. She joined CDW in 2002 as its first general counsel.
Leahy acquired her bachelor’s degree from Brown University and her J.D. from Boston College Law School. She also completed the Kellogg School of Management’s CEO Perspectives Program and Kellogg Center for Executive Women’s Women’s Director Development Program.
Lisa Su is the president and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), titles she has held since October 2014. She is also one of the company’s board of directors. Before becoming CEO, she served as the company’s COO, overseeing the integration of its various units from July to October 2014. Dr. Su joined the company in January 2012, assuming the role of senior vice president (SVP) and general manager for global business units.
Before joining AMD, she was also SVP and general manager at Freescale Semiconductor’s networking and multimedia division. She also spent 13 years with IBM, holding different business and engineering leadership posts.
Dr. Su acquired her bachelor’s degree as well as her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She earned the title Fellow of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers in 2009.
Julie Sweet is the CEO of Accenture and one of its board of directors. Before serving as CEO in September 2019, she functioned as the CEO of Accenture’s North America division, the company’s biggest geographic market. Prior to that, she served as Accenture’s secretary, general counsel, and chief compliance officer for five years. Before joining the company in 2010, she was a partner in Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP for a decade.
Sweet obtained her bachelor of arts degree from Claremont McKenna College and her J.D. from Columbia Law School. In 2020, she took the top spot in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business ranking.
Jayshree Ullal has functioned as the CEO of cloud networking company Arista Networks for more than a decade. Ullal joined the company in May 2008 and assumed her CEO role in October of the same year. She led the company to a successful and historic initial public offering in June 2014.
Prior to joining Arista, Ullal spent 15 years at Cisco, where her last position was SVP. In all, she has over 30 years of experience in the computer networking industry.
Ullal obtained her bachelor of science in electrical engineering from San Francisco State University. Meanwhile, she received her master’s degree in engineering management from Santa Clara University.
Adena Friedman began her role as president and CEO of Nasdaq on January 1, 2017. She is also a member of the board of directors. Before being elected as CEO, she held the position of COO. As such, she was responsible for supervising all of Nasdaq’s business segments. Friedman first joined Nasdaq in 1993. She left in March 2011 to join investment firm Carlyle Group as its CFO and managing director. In June 2014, she rejoined Nasdaq to take over the COO position.
Friedman graduated from Williams College with a bachelor of arts in political science degree. Meanwhile, she attended the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University to acquire her MBA.
Tricia Griffith began serving The Progressive Corporation as its president and CEO in 2016. Before taking the CEO role, she held the position of Personal Lines COO, which made her responsible for overseeing personal lines, customer relationship management, and claims. Griffith joined Progressive in 1988 as a claims representative. Since then, she has held various roles, including managerial ones.
Griffith got her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University. She also completed the Wharton School of Business’s Advanced Management Program.
Jennifer Johnson is the CEO and president of the holding company Franklin Resources, Inc. She has been in the position since February 2020. Previously, she held the role of COO, overseeing most of the company’s investment management activities and services. She has been with the company since 1988.
Aside from her roles at Franklin Resources, she also serves as one of the board members of Riva Financial Systems and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. She is also a Crystal Springs Uplands School trustee.
Johnson holds a bachelor of arts in economics, which she completed at the University of California at Davis.
Margaret Keane started in her role as CEO of Synchrony Financial, previously called GE Capital Retail Financing, in 2011. Keane led GE Capital’s Retail Card platform as its CEO from 2004. She then continued to serve as the CEO of GE Capital Retail Financing. She spent almost two decades at GE Capital, where she assumed various leadership roles.
Prior to joining GE Capital, she shared her leadership talent first with Citibank, where she spent around 16 years of her professional life.
Keane got her bachelor of arts in government and politics from Saint John’s University. She also took her MB with a concentration in marketing at Saint John’s University - Peter J. Tobin College of Business.
Debra Cafaro is the CEO and chairman of the board at Ventas, Inc., a real estate investment trust (REIT) that specializes in healthcare facilities. Cafaro has been at the helm of the company since 1999. With her supervision, the company’s market capitalization grew from $200 million in 1999 to $28 billion in 2019.
Prior to working at Ventas, she served as president and director at Ambassador Apartments Inc., another REIT. A lawyer by profession, she also practiced real estate, finance, and corporate law from 1983 to 1997. She also worked at Northwestern University Law School from 1988 to 1992 as an adjunct professor for real estate transactions and finance.
In 1979, Cafaro acquired her bachelor of arts in government economics (magna cum laude) from the University of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, she received her J.D. as cum laude from the University of Chicago Law School in 1982.
Lisa Palmer began working as the president and CEO of Regency Centers Corporation on January 1, 2020, but she has been serving as the company’s president since 2016. She also served as CFO from January 2016 to August 2019. Palmer functioned as EVP from 2013 to 2015 and as SVP and president of capital markets from 2003 to 2013. Back in 1999, she held the role of VP of capital markets and was also the senior manager of investment services in 1996.
Prior to joining Regency, Palmer worked with Accenture, ESH Hospitality, and Brooks Rehabilitation. Palmer is a University of Virginia graduate with a bachelor of arts in economics degree. She finished her MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Lynn Good is the CEO, chair, and president of the energy holding company Duke Energy. Before assuming the role in 2013, Good served as the company’s CFO, leading its commercial energy businesses during the first stages of the company’s renewable energy initiatives.
Good began her career in the utility industry in 2003 as part of Cinegy, which was later merged with Duke Energy. Before 2003, she was a partner at two international accounting firms, including Arthur Andersen.
A double degree holder, she completed her bachelor of science in accounting and degrees in systems analysis at Miami University.
Patricia Poppe was the president and CEO of CMS Energy and Consumer Energy from July 2016 to November 2020. Starting December 1, 2020, she assumed the CEO role at Pacific Gas & Electric, another energy company that also used to be included in the S&P 500.
Prior to becoming the CEO of CMS Energy, Poppe served as the SVP of the company’s distribution operations, engineering and transmission division. She also served as the VP of customer experience, rates, and regulation. Poppe joined CMS in January 2011 as vice president of customer operations.
Poppe obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Purdue University. She also completed a master’s degree in management at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Vicki Hollub assumed the role of Occidental Petroleum’s CEO and president in April 2016. She has been a member of the company’s board of directors since 2015. Hollub has been working with Occidental for over 35 years and during her stay with the company, she has already held various senior and technical roles. Most recently, she served as COO. She has also worked as the president of Oxy Oil and Gas, overseeing operations in the U.S. and other countries. Hollub started her career at Permian Basin, which was acquired by CMS Energy.
Hollub acquired her bachelor's degree in mineral engineering in 1981, focusing on fuels and mineral resources. She also became a Distinguished Engineering Fellow at Alabama College of Engineering.
Phebe Novakovic started in her role as chairman and CEO of General Dynamics on January 1, 2013. Prior to sitting as the company’s CEO, she was president and COO.
She also previously served the company as EVP for General Dynamics’s Marine Systems group. As such, she was responsible for leading three of General Dynamics’s companies—NASSCO, Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat. Novakovic also functioned as the SVP for planning and development and VP for strategic planning.
Novakovic completed her undergraduate degree at Smith College, while she acquired her MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Before working at General Dynamics, she was Special Assistant to the Secretary and later, Deputy Secretary of Defense, from 1997 to 2001.
Carol Tomé is the CEO of United Parcel Service (UPS). She sits as the 12th CEO of the 113-year-old company. Before joining UPS to serve as its CEO, Tomé was EVP and CFO of The Home Depot, Inc. She joined Home Depot in 1995 to become its VP and treasurer. Prior to her career at Home Depot, she was also VP and treasurer at Riverwood International Corporation.
A Jackson, Wyoming native, Tomé obtained her bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Wyoming. Meanwhile, she got her MBA, major in finance, from the University of Denver.
Lori Ryerkerk is the president, chairman, and CEO of chemical and specialty materials company Celanese Corporation. She started in her role as CEO in May 2019, while she was appointed chairman a month before. Prior to her role as the top executive of Celanese, she served as EVP of Global Manufacturing in Shell Downstream, Inc.
Ryerkerk graduated from Iowa State University with a chemical engineering degree.
Last, and definitely not the least, to land our roster of top female executives is Kathy Warden, the chairman, president, and CEO of Northrop Grumman Corporation. She became president and CEO on January 1, 2019, and was elected as chairman of the board of directors on August 1 of the same year. She joined the board in 2018.
Before being named as CEO and president, she served as COO and VP. She also previously held the role of corporate vice president, as well as president of the company’s information systems and mission systems sectors. Prior to joining Northrop Grumman, Warden has also worked with General Dynamics, Veridian Corporation, and the General Electric Company.
Warden obtained her undergraduate degree from James Madison University, while she got her MBA from George Washington University.
In all, the number of female executives currently seated in high positions in large corporations has increased over the last several years. However, it is common for them to face barriers before they could get closer to the glass ceiling. Currently, you'll find only 6.2% of the S&P 500 companies with female CEOs. It is still apparently a very small percentage, as women executives tend to lead departments that do not commonly produce CEOs: administration, human resources, and legal, which typically assist teams in learning what are the steps to starting an LLC, to name some. Furthermore, more men are elected to board member positions, giving them an innate advantage.
If anything, the fact that there are female CEOs in S&P 500 companies speak loud enough about the inevitable influence of women in business. The top female CEOs in this list have broken the gender barriers, and as the percentage of female executives continues to steadily grow, we can hope to see more women leaders to eventually close the CEO gender gap.