Ellen Kullman, CEO at DuPont, is one of 13 female CEOs of the largest publicly traded companies. (Photo: Ben Baker / Redux)
Ellen Kullman replaced Chad Holliday at DuPont Thursday to start 2009, which brings to 13 the number of female CEOs running the nation's largest 500 publicly traded companies.
That's a record. But it's only one more than last year, a year when frustration continued to mount on the corporate side over the plodding progress of women.
It's not just that the number of female CEOs is barely inching up. Women now receive about 6 in 10 college degrees, yet near the top there remains slow progress in the number of female directors, officers and highest paid, according to research by Catalyst, Corporate Library and others.
USA Today has tracked the annual stock performance of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 since 2003 and 2004, when female CEOs so out-performed men that it looked like there might be something to the gender advantage, or at least something to the theory that the glass ceiling was so difficult to crack that the women who made it to the top were more talented than their male counterparts.
The year 2008 knew no gender in its devastation.
The S&P 500 fell 38.5%, its worst year since 1937. But the S&P 500 performed 4 percentage points better than the average large company run by a woman CEO, down 42.7%. The best-performing of the firms led by women was Kraft Foods, down 18% under Irene Rosenfeld.
The year was bad enough to obliterate career performance. Nine of the 12 companies have now lost money for any shareholder who invested on the day the women got the job. The only exceptions: Susan Ivey at tobacco company Reynolds American and the two most-tenured women, Andrea Jung at Avon and Anne Mulcahy at Xerox. Avon is up 65% during Jung's nine years, and Xerox is up 1% during Mulcahy's 6 1/2 years. Reynolds is up 21% since Ivey began in 2004.
Measuring Women's Impact
So few women are CEOs of major corporations that it renders the sample size of USA Today's annual examination little more than a curiosity. With the Jan. 1 addition of Kullman at DuPont, 2.6% of the Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. However, women are doing better at the largest mega-companies. With Kullman, 52, now on board, 7.4% of the largest 81 corporations with annual revenue of $31 billion and more have a woman at the helm.
As recently as 1996 there was only one female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, co-CEO Marion Sandler of Golden West Financial, acquired by Wachovia in 2006.
If women are better than men at, say, thinking of long-term sustainability, it won't become apparent until they reach "critical mass," says Beth Brooke, global vice chairman of Ernst & Young.
Without greater numbers, the women remain outliers and are fighting strong headwinds. Investors, for example, will be impatient with a woman who happens to think years ahead at the expense of quarterly earnings, Brooke says.
Separate studies in 2008 by Catalyst, an organization that supports expanded opportunities for women at work, and management consultant McKinsey & Co. found that companies with more female executives perform better.
University of California-Irvine professor emeritus Judy Rosener, 79, says brain scans prove that men and women think differently. Rosener says she's concluded that a company with a mix of male and female leaders, with their differing attitudes regarding risk, collaboration and ambiguity, will outperform a competitor that relies on the leadership of a single sex. Women aren't better, Rosener says, but they bring to the table something that men don't have.
Women are paid worse at the top. A 2008 survey of CEO pay at 3,242 North American companies by the Corporate Library found that female CEOs earned more in base pay, but when cash bonuses, perks and stock compensation were included, women made a median $1.7 million, or 85% of what male CEOs made.
2009 is not starting out much better. The January Harvard Business Review includes a 360-degree feedback study by Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru. It finds that female leaders are seen to be strong in such traits as tenacity and emotional intelligence, but trail men in one important aspect: Their superiors, peers and subordinates say that women leaders lack vision.
Matt Krantz contributed to this report.