Women get less than 3% of new CEO jobs as global progress stalls

CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter (left), CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi (centre) and journalist Norah O'Donnell take part in a panel during the Women In The World Summit.
CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter (left), CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi (centre) and journalist Norah O'Donnell take part in a panel during the Women In The World Summit.PHOTO: REUTERS

SOUTHFIELD, MICHIGAN (BLOOMBERG) - 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 per cent of new CEO positions, the lowest since 2011, according to a PwC study of 2,500 global public companies released on Tuesday (April 19). In the US and Canada, less than 1 per cent 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 US and Canada," said Ms 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 per cent of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies and hold about 20 per cent of board seats, up from 16 per cent five years ago, according to executive recruiter Spencer Stuart. The US may be 40 years from gender parity on boards even if the pace of replacement doubles, according to a US Government Accountability Office report issued in January.

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, Ms 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. Ms 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 US 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, Ms 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, Ms Aguirre said.

Most companies have a formal policymaking 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," Ms Aguirre said. "There's a bit of a stall-out and companies need to figure out a better way."