In honor of women’s history month, we wanted to shine a spotlight on female leadership.  Out of the top 500 companies from the Fortune 2020 list, 39 are currently led by female CEOs.  

In 2015, only 13 of the Fortune 500 companies were led by female CEOs, so considerable progress has been made in recent years.  However, there is still a wide gap between male and female leaders. Standing at only 7.8% of the 2020 fortune 500 list, women CEOs are still markedly underrepresented. 

This blog post outlines 4 key attributes shared among these top female CEOs today.

The list

CEOCompany2020 Fortune 500 Ranking
Karen S. LynchCVS Health5
Mary T. BarraGeneral Motors18
Gail K. BoudreauxAnthem. Inc29


Jane Fraser

Carol B. ToméUPS43
Corie BarryBest Buy75
Safra A. CatzOracle82
Phebe N. NovakovicGeneral Dynamics83
Susan Patricia GriffithProgressive86
Kathy J. WardenNorthrop Grumman96
Lynn J. GoodDuke Energy123
Vicki A. HollubOccidental Petroleum148
Heyward DoniganRite Aid150
Michelle D. GassKohl’s165
Margaret M. KeaneSynchrony Financial170
Christine A. LeahyCDW178


Patricia K. Poppe

Sonia SyngalGap199
Barbara RentlerRoss Stores202
Anna ManningReinsurance Group of America225
Beth E. FordLand O’Lakes232
Penny PenningtonJones Financial (Edward Jones)336
Joey WatYum China Holdings361
Lauren R. HobartDick’s Sporting Goods362
Sue Y. NabiCoty366
Teresa J. RasmussenThrivent Financial for Lutherans368
Michele G. BuckHershey398
Kathleen M. MazzarellaGraybar Electric415
Mary N. DillonUlta Beauty418
Lisa T. SuAdvanced Micro Devices (AMD)448
Nazzic S. KeeneScience Applications International466
Lori J. RyerkerkCelanese470
Kristin PeckZoetis472
Carrie W. TeffnerAscena Retail Group473
Linda RendleClorox474
Joanne CrevoiseratTapestry485
Laura J. AlberWilliams Sonoma489
Barbara R. SithCommercial Metals491
Jennifer M. JohnsonFranklin Resources493

What attributes does this group of CEOs share?

#1 – Loyalty

All 39 female CEOs in 2020’s Fortune 500 companies share the attribute of loyalty.  For this post, we’ve defined loyalty as staying with companies for an average of 3+ years, or more than 3 years with their current company. 

For example, Mary Barra, CEO and Chairman at General Motors, has spent her entire career with the same company.  She joined General Motors straight out of college in the 1980s after studying electrical engineeringFrom there, she worked her way up the ranks, moving through many different roles including senior staff engineer, manager, executive director, VP, and ultimately, CEO. 

Fortune 500 female CEOs possess an average total experience of 30 years and have been in their CEO role for 8 years on average.

#2 – Rising through the ranks

The overwhelming majority of female CEOs rose through the ranks at their companies internally before assuming their current role as CEO.  83% of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 started in their companies at a lower position and ascended to the CEO role. 

For example, Jane Fraser, CEO at Citi, originally joined the company as the Head of Client Strategy.  She then got promoted to Global Head of Strategy and M&A.  From there she became CEO of Citi Private Bank, CEO of Citi Mortgage, and touched many aspects of the business before becoming overall CEO.

Many of these CEOs advanced very quickly to the top spot, clearly able to make a big impact in each role leading to fast promotions.

#3 – Influence

All of the female CEOs we analyzed are influencers in some capacity.  They make the effort to engage with the community and deliver thought leadership, which positively impacts their careers and the companies they work for. 

These female CEOs have won multiple awards and honors, have been recognized by different forums, and have a strong media presence, with interviews published across magazines, online publications, and blogs.

Most of the CEOs on our list have several hundred thousand followers on their social media accounts and some are in the millions. 

This serves as validation for putting effort into your online presence early in your career.  Publish interesting content that’s relevant to your career path, engage in conversations with peers, and commit to going above and beyond.  

#4 – Continual learning

Another attribute that’s shared among the female CEOs in our list is a desire for continual learning throughout their careers.  69% of the CEOs we analyzed have Masters degrees, and 75% of those have an MBA.  They continue to learn through taking on new roles, advisory positions and certifications

This commitment to learning shows that these CEOs take their careers into their own hands and leverage every opportunity they can to improve their skill-sets and build upon their experience.

Wrapping up

Focusing on these four attributes may help more women ascend the ranks of their companies.  

As we mentioned up front, the trend is moving toward more female CEOs across the Fortune 500 and this is certainly an inspiring group, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to representation.  Diversity of all kinds, including ethnicity and race, not just gender, remains an issue in the highest ranks of corporate leadership as well.

Findem can show you the diversity of your organization and how to improve it through building a more diverse talent pipeline based on attributes. 

Want to learn more about how Findem can help your team? Request a demo today.