Female CEOs


Celebrating Women CEOs and their Leadership Style of Powerful Diversity

It is no secret that Women CEOs make up the significantly smaller number of chief executives worldwide. Though absolute numbers remain low, a measurable shift was observed during the pandemic in the first half of 2021. 

Reports point to a record number of chief executives appointed last year, the highest since 2018. Of these appointed CEOs, 13% were women, compared to only 6% in the previous six months, according to a study by Heidrick & Struggles. 

[…] New CEOs are more likely to be women,
to be from countries other than where the company is headquartered, to have cross-border experience, and to have advanced degrees.”

New women CEOs differ significantly from the CEOs they replaced. The change at the helm of many companies comes at a time when the world has changed extensively due to the pandemic and other key trends such as global shifts seen in markets, customers, ideas and talent.

All of these factors increase the need for a CEO with fresh perspectives, more diversity and gender balance, cross-border and cross-industry experience, shaping a new leadership style that women CEOs exhibit.

first day of female candidate. welcome the team

What makes a "great CEO"? The Rise of Women CEOs

Different times, different leadership. A change in company culture accompanies a shift in what makes a great CEO. According to Forbes, purpose-led and mission-led leadership with an authentic focus on caring for people has become much more important during the pandemic.

“Only now appointments to the C-suite are focusing intensely
on how companies need to care for people—from employees to communities to suppliers to customers.”

Source: Forbes

Leading successfully in current socio-economic trends means leading with empathy, an ability to adapt and communicate effectively, while focusing on the topic diversity. While these skills are not new, they have moved to the forefront of what makes a successful president and CEO. Inspiring people to keep organizations moving forward relies on these skills more than ever before.

A Closer Look at Fortune 500 Female CEOs

Image: Fortune

Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Fortune 500 company Boots Walgreens, is one of 41 women CEOs of a US Fortune 500 company and one of only three black female CEOs to head up a company that ranks in the top 500. 

Prior to Boots Walgreens, Brewer served as COO of Starbucks and drove the company’s diversity initiatives. 

At the recent Forbes Power Women Summit, she emphasized: “When I think about the last 18 months, all I can think about is how important it is for leaders to have such a strong sense of empathy, listening skills.”*

Image: Fortune

Karen Lynch, CEO of CVS Health is the highest-ranking female CEO in the Fortune 500 line-up.

Leading change in the healthcare system, Lynch has mentored and developed programs to introduce women employees to senior management positions, aiming to close the gender gap in leadership roles.

As the recipient of a Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women Leaders award, she states “I am committed to ensuring that others don’t experience gender or any other form of bias and are assessed based on the skills they bring to the table. I believe in the importance of championing women as the key contributors and decision makers they are”*.

Image: The CEO Magazine

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox until 2016 and now chairwoman of VEON, was the first African-American woman to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In addition, Burns was the first woman to succeed another as Fortune 500 CEO. 

Burns is a founding member of Change the Equation, a CEO-led non-profit program that aims to boost STEM education.

Championing children’s education and women in leadership, Burns says “Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in.” 

Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle and repeatedly named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business 2020, immigrated to the US at age five from Israel. 

Before her highly successful career in the technology sector and decades in the C-Suite, she experienced first hand how draining and debilitating being “different” can be. Today, she is regarded as the highest-paid female CEO of any American company and one of the richest self-made women in the US.

Championing women in leadership and diversity as a CEO, Catz states “organizations deprive themselves of talent critical to their success when they aren’t welcoming to people of different backgrounds and conditions.”*

CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA is an inspiring example of the power of women in leadership as one of only four black women who hold the position of Fortune 500 CEO. Under her guidance, TIAA has become known for its innovative strategies and diversity initiatives forged to empower women in business and strengthen investments in minority communities. 

Her success in this role speaks to her expertise in the field, dedication to expanding financial literacy and access, and commitment to nurturing ambitious female leaders.

“Progress is not going in a straight line. It goes up and down, but it’s progress all the same,” Duckett says. The path that she has paved for women in leadership shows that anybody can reach powerful positions when given the opportunity and backing.

Female CEOs: Lead to Inspire

Research shows that women CEOs build boardrooms and C-suites that stand out with diversity beyond gender. From age to origin, background to experience, all aspects of diversity matter when it comes to advancing an organization today.

The fact that these key factors are at the forefront of what the 21st century post-pandemic economy demands and a great CEO is empowering for women in leadership roles. 

The glass ceiling of corporate boardrooms is starting to show cracks. While the numbers of female CEOs are still lower by a large margin, they are on the rise and their ranks continue to grow.

“Understanding women leaders as role models and the value they bring to our society is part of a changing vision of a world that needs to be more diverse, equitable and sustainable.”

Source: bizwomen

Key Search Clients with Female CEOs

Key Search Executive Search is proud to work with companies that are run by women CEOs. We have successfully worked with the following companies and their female CEOs to help them hire the leadership team they need:

Julie Szudarek

 CEO of Atida since 2019

Eleftheria Zourou

Founder and CEO of Doctoranytime since 2012

Sofie Quidenus-Wahlforss

Founder and CEO of omni:us since 2015

From inclusive leadership and diversity to company culture, Key Search considers all factors to help you hire the right candidate for your company’s leadership role. Read also our post about how to hire female leaders.

Inclusive Leadership – a key topic for your organization? Read more on our blog:

Many other Key Search clients have female C-suite executives that we are successfully collaborating with to build and expand their leadership team:

We help some of the world’s most exciting startups and fast-growth companies hire their leaders. Our expertise, in-house research and 24/7 access to our custom progress and statistics tool to help you hire your leaders. 

Set up an introductory call with our female CEO and founder, Franziska Palumbo-Seidel, to find out how Key Search can help you with your executive search.

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Because we help some of the world’s most exciting startups and fast-growth companies hire their leaders, it would be my pleasure to talk to you about how we can put our expertise and in-house research to work to help you hire your leaders. Let’s talk!

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