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Number of women CEOs remains low, but long-term outlook will improve

By 2040, women will make up about a third of new CEO appointments, a new study predicts.

For the immediate future women attorneys who want to become corporate CEOs may face a struggle.

Strategy&, the consulting firm that used to be known as Booz & Co., said that only 3 percent of incoming CEOs in 2013 were women. The 3 percent figure is a 1.3 percentage point drop from 2012.

In addition, female CEOs are more likely to be fired than male CEOs, the study adds. A higher number of women have been forced out as CEOs than men in the last decade (38 percent of women vs. 27 percent of men). And Carolin Oelschlegel, a principle at Strategy&, was quoted by The Guardian that, "When predominantly male boards decide they want to hire a woman, it could be because the role is seen as too difficult and other men have turned it down. The woman is going into a job with a high chance of failure to begin with."

But the longer-term outlook is better. “Women CEOs … are becoming more prevalent, and we expect that trend to accelerate. By 2040, we project that women will make up about a third of new CEO appointments,” according to the report.

The firm makes the prediction using a 10-year trend in data, more higher education now getting obtained by women, continuing entry of women into the workforce, and changing social norms of corporate leadership.

One factor that may help some women attorneys in private practice is that women are more often hired than men from outside of their company.

The findings include an analysis of the world’s largest 2,500 public companies. When it comes to companies in the United States and Canada, they have the highest percentage of women CEOs over the decade (3.2 percent), and those in Japan have had the lowest (0.8 percent). India, Russia and Brazil have about 1.7 percent women CEOs.

In addition, information technology, consumer staples, and consumer discretionary sectors had the highest percentages of women CEOs (3.1 percent, 2.6 percent, and 2.6 percent, respectively). On the other hand, the materials industry had the lowest percentage of women CEOs (0.8 percent).

“That women CEOs are more often outsiders may be an indication that companies have not been able to cultivate enough female executives in-house. So when boards look for new CEOs, they necessarily find a larger pool of female candidates outside their own organizations,” according to a statement from Strategy&.

Also, in a recent report, InsideCounsel pointed out that Claudia Zeisberger, academic director of Insead's Global Private Equity Initiative, predicts there will be a major shift with women increasingly being among the candidates who fulfill requirements for job vacancies. She calls it an “explosion” of talent.

As for now, among the best-known women CEOs in the United States are: Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, and Mary Barra at General Motors.

Also, Terrance Fitzsimmons of Australia's University of Queensland has found in studies about women leaders that, "Female respondents held far more positions in their careers and had moved outside their initial industry many more times than their male counterparts" – according to a report from Bloomberg News.


Further reading:


Women may dominate the compliance officer field, but it should lead to other corporate opportunities

Women attorneys may face double standard when it comes to courtroom attire

Overcoming the hurdles within

Law firms, in-house counsel offices will likely see talent explosion among female applicants


Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein ( is a veteran freelance writer and and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. He writes frequently for ALM Media's

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