Women Still on the Outside Looking Into the C-Suite

A Korn Ferry study reveals 55 percent of CHROs are women. The next highest position occupied by women was CMO at 29 percent.


A new study of the top 1,000 U.S. companies showed women continue to lag in holding C-suite positions.

Just 24 percent of the top leaders are women, according to the analysis by global executive search firm Korn Ferry. The study analyzed all C-suite positions, including chief human resources officer, across such industries as consumer, energy, financial, industrial, life science and technology.

Of the six industries surveyed, life science had less than 1 percent of women with the CEO title while the consumer industry ranked the highest with 9 percent of women taking on top leadership. Overall, Korn Ferry found that CEO was held by only 5 percent of women.

A significant finding in the report showed that when compared across all the top senior positions, 55 percent of chief human resources officer positions were held by women. The next highest position occupied by women was chief marketing officer at 29 percent, chief information officer at 19 percent and chief financial officer at 12 percent.


Melissa Lamson is the CEO of Lamson Consulting.

Melissa Lamson, CEO of Chicago-based Lamson Consulting, said from an organizational standpoint, gender parity is cultivated long before a women reaches the top.

“The absolute most critical move an organization can make is to declare gender parity a core value, make sure it’s reinforced from the most powerful staff member down to the newest entry-level employee,” she said.

A distinct correlation between the competencies and duties of the CHRO and their similarities to a CEO was evident. According to the research, women ranked higher in competencies needed for CHRO, such as collaboration, negotiating skills, ability to balance multiple constituencies and an overall appreciation for the dynamics of business; all of which pertain to some aspects of the duties for a CEO. Still, women hit a barrier when pushing past this position.

“The key lies in expanding our vision of what skills will help a woman succeed in the C-suite,” Lamson said.

An organization that simply focuses on gender parity but neglects skill development will be left with employees who are unclear regarding what exactly propels them higher in the organization, she added.

Peggy Hazard, managing principal for Korn Ferry said in a statement, “Study after study shows that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results.”

When breaking down the results by industry, the financial sector showed 28 percent of women take on higher C-suite positions followed by technology 25 percent, energy 24 percent, consumer and life science 23 percent and industrial 22 percent.

Bryan Proctor, global financial officer practice leader at Korn Ferry said, “A common barrier of female advancement to the top spot continues to be a lack of critical opportunities to demonstrate leadership, such as international assignments and operational roles.”

Proctor added that there are a growing number of women who are proactively seeking high-level positions and experiences, and they are being rewarded and recognized for their efforts.

Lamson said some women overlook networking as a critical step in career advancement. While some males use the 80/20 rule — work 80 percent of the time and socialize 20 percent of the time — Lamson said women are known to put their heads down and work.

“This face time helps build relationships that [women] can leverage into opportunities later on. Women should do more of this,” she said.


Nicholaus Garcia is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.



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