Female Executives Fare Better in Retail — but Gender Gap Hurdle Remains

The state of women in the workplace may finally be garnering widespread mainstream media attention, but at the top of the ladder across all sectors, leaders are still overwhelmingly male, a new analysis by Pew Research Center has found.

Researchers examined all U.S. companies in the Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 index for 2016-17, taking note of not just the CEOs but also the executives in the ranks just below, including chief financial officers, chief operating officers and general counsels — the presumptive pool of next-generation leaders. The findings were disappointing (if perhaps unsurprising): Only 5.1 percent of CEOs were women, and female executives accounted for only 651, or 11.5 percent, of the nearly 5,700 top positions included in the survey.

This data presents a challenge to the idea that it’s only a matter of time before a generation of women rises through the ranks to correct the gender imbalance. Even as men retire from many of these corporate seats of power, the leaders poised to take their place are largely male. Pew also found that non-CEO women were highly concentrated in areas like finance, legal and human resources — all of which are statistically less likely to be tapped for the CEO role than operational positions.

Retail fared the best out of the 67 industries included in the index. Of the 77 female CEOs, eight led specialty retailers, including Ross Stores’ Barbara Rentler. The industry came out on top in non-CEO positions, too, with 49 female executives; however, this number represented less than 30 percent of retailers’ total executive teams.

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