Women Get Less Than 3% of New CEO Jobs as Global Progress Stalls

  • PwC study finds U.S. and Canada with worst showing in 16 years
  • Female chief executives more likely to be hired from outside

The outlook for women in the CEO chair dimmed last year.

Even with the highest turnover rate among chief executive officers in more than a dozen years, women captured less than 3 percent of new CEO positions, the lowest since 2011, according to a PwC study of 2,500 global public companies released on Tuesday. In the U.S. and Canada, less than 1 percent of new CEOs were female, the worst showing in the 16-year history of the study and the third straight annual decline.

“It’s really bad news for the U.S. and Canada,” said DeAnne Aguirre, who advises executives on talent and culture at PwC’s strategy-consulting arm. “Companies need to do more than they’re doing today to get talented women to be promoted to CEO.”

Women run only 4.4 percent of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies and hold about 20 percent of board seats, up from 16 percent five years ago, according to executive recruiter Spencer Stuart. The U.S. may be 40 years from gender parity on boards even if the pace of replacement doubles, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued in January.

Track Record

The results in 2015 might be blamed partly on the fact that industries with a poor track record of promoting women -- energy, industrials and materials -- dominated turnover at the top, Aguirre said. Those industries were the least likely to hire women in the past dozen years, she said.

The study found that 10 of 359 incoming CEOs last year were women. Andrea Greenberg, who took the top post at MSG Networks Inc. after the company was spun off from Madison Square Garden Co., was the only example in the U.S. or Canada, PwC said.

One improvement last year was that for first time, women weren’t more likely than men to be forced out of the top job, Aguirre said. Female CEOs are also more likely to be hired from the outside than men, suggesting companies aren’t doing enough to nurture internal candidates, Aguirre said.

Most companies have a formal policy making diversity a priority, including promoting women. But it’s not clear if there’s been as much success changing informal attitudes and practices, she said.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk about it, we need to do more,” Aguirre said. “There’s a bit of a stall-out and companies need to figure out a better way.”

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