In May this year, due to a few promotions at prominent companies, the number of women CEOs at the head of Fortune 500 companies moved higher than it has ever been. 33 women head companies on the list of highest-grossing firms, a jump from last year’s 24.

With diversity and inclusion efforts becoming a consistent talking point for any company hoping to find success and recruit the best and brightest, the increase in numbers is encouraging, but the percentage of women in the group as a whole is still only 6.6 percent. While the Fortune 500 is not a complete view of the demographic breakdown of the business world, it is a helpful snapshot into how women have been moving into higher positions over the past 65 years.

Coverage of these companies is higher than other women-led brands simply because brands in the top 500 contribute to two-thirds of the U.S. GDP. and are highly monitored.

Women CEOs in the Fortune 500

  • Mary T. Barra, General Motors Company (GM)
  • Corie Barry, Best Buy
  • Gail Boudreaux, Anthem, Inc.
  • Heather Bresch, Mylan N.V.
  • Michele Buck, Hershey Company
  • Debra A. Cafaro, Ventas, Inc.
  • Safra A. Catz, Oracle Corporation
  • Mary Dillon, Ulta Beauty, Inc.
  • Adena Friedman, Nasdaq, Inc.
  • Michelle Gass, Kohl’s Corporation
  • Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy Corporation
  • Tricia Griffith, The Progressive Corporation
  • Marillyn A. Hewson, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Vicki Hollub, Occidental Petroleum Corporation
  • Margaret Keane, Synchrony Financial
  • Melisa Miller, Alliance Data Systems
  • Beth E. Mooney, KeyBank
  • Phebe N. Novakovic, General Dynamics Corporation
  • Patricia K. Poppe, CMS Energy Corporation
  • Barbara Rentler, Ross Stores, Inc.
  • Virginia M. Rometty, International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation
  • Lori J. Ryerkerk, Celanese Corporation
  • Susan N. Story, American Water Works Company, Inc.
  • Lisa Su, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.
  • Julie Sweet, Accenture
  • Jayshree Ullal, Arista Networks, Inc.
  • Kathy Warden, Northrop Grumman Corporation


    Upcoming Changes

  • Lisa Palmer will become CEO of Regency Centers Corporation on January 1, 2020.
  • Kristin Peck will become CEO of Zoetis on January 1, 2020.
  • Jennifer M. Johnson will become CEO of Franklin Resources, Inc. on February 11, 2020.
  • Reshma Kewalramani will become CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals on April 1, 2020.
  • Beth E. Mooney will retire as CEO of KeyBank on May 1, 2020.
  • Heather Bresch will retire as CEO when Mylan N.V. merges with Upjohn in mid-2020.

Female CEOs in the Age of Instagram

As far as other women-led companies, several “unicorns” have emerged through platforms like Instagram, defying expectations and surviving through several rounds of funding. Brands like Glossier, Reformation, THINX and The Wing have deployed solid social media strategies that have rocketed their brands to success.

Graph depicting women-lead brands successful on Instagram

Audrey Gelman in particular, the co-founder and CEO of The Wing, a women’s co-working space, has championed being a woman in charge, even going on to become the first visibly pregnant CEO featured on a business magazine cover. Inc. magazine’s October issue highlighted female founders and Gelman said she wanted to appear on the cover visibly pregnant in order to dispel assumptions that women can’t run a business and start a family. 

Glossier has also seen coverage at every turn during its journey from a blog to full-fledged beauty brand. With a waitlist for sold-out products numbering in the tens of thousands, CEO Emily Weiss has been credited with expertly aligning her business with Instagram’s love of beautiful imagery and diverse casting. Glossier almost single-handedly shifted desired makeup trends in the last few years to a more natural look, and they have social media to thank for their rapid rise.

Example of Glossier Instagram Post
With more women-run companies cropping up on social every day and an upward trend in the promotion of female CEOs, the dial is moving in terms of diversity and inclusion, but it’s moving slowly. Women don’t just have to be promoted to CEOs for effects to be felt, representation on boards makes a difference as well.

“We are seeing women and minorities on boards ticking up, and boards have a lot to do with who becomes CEOs,” says Lorraine Hariton, CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit consulting and research firm focused on women in the workplace. Fifteen years ago, women accounted for 15.7% of board seats in the Fortune 500. Now, it’s 25.5%. The increase has come as institutional investors—citing research on the business benefits of diverse leadership—have pushed for new blood in boardrooms.”

Fortune reported the above, and research shows when boards are well-integrated with women, women are much more likely to be appointed CEOs, and further recruit, retain, and advance people of color. There’s a lot of work to do as far as moving the dial on diversifying workplaces and leadership teams, but when it comes from the values instilled in the company as a whole, everyone benefits.

If you want to see how diversity and inclusion is talked about in 2019 you can read our full report here.

Katherine Ellis

Katherine is a Content Strategist for NewsWhip working at the confluence of journalism and marketing.